By David Tanner, associate editor
A fatal crash involving a truck and an Amtrak train in Nevada in 2011 could significantly affect the employment screening process for truck drivers if NTSB gets its way.
Citing the crash near Reno that killed six people including the truck driver on June 24, 2011, the National Transportation Safety Board rolled out a list of recommendations to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and other agencies.
Topping the list, NTSB Administrator Deborah Hersman is urging the FMCSA to create a national database for commercial drivers and require motor carriers to screen 10 years of driver employment history prior to hiring.
Hersman framed the three-part employment screening request, along with an additional recommendation on brake monitoring, in a January letter to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro.
NTSB investigators noted that the driver of the truck that collided with the Amtrak train, Lawrence Valli, 43 of Winnemucca, NV, had an “erratic” employment history, including citations and crashes.
In addition, Valli was reportedly using a cellphone just before the crash and was within 300 feet of the intersection before applying his brakes.
The NTSB noted that 11 of the 16 brake drums on the Peterbilt that Valli was driving were “worn beyond specified limits.” That led to a citation of Valli’s employer, John Davis Trucking, for failing to provide a safe vehicle.
Hersman requested that Ferro take action on the four specific recommendations within 90 days.
OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said current and future truckers have reason to be concerned with the recommendations. He says technology and regulations – some that show negligible or no safety benefit – are no substitute for adequate training and experience behind the wheel.
H-12-54: Create a mechanism to gather and record commercial driving-related employment history information about all drivers who have a commercial driver’s license, and make this information available to all prospective motor carrier employers.
H-12-55: Using the mechanism developed in H-12-54, require motor carriers to conduct and document investigations into the employment records of prospective drivers for the 10 years that precede the application date.
H-12-56: Require motor carriers to retrieve records from the Commercial Driver’s License Information System (CDLIS) and the National Driver Register (NDR) for all driver applicants so that they can obtain a complete driving and license history of prospective drivers.
H-12-57: Inform commercial vehicle inspectors of (1) the importance of taking pushrod stroke measurements within the specified pressure range, (2) the relationship between pushrod stroke and specific air pressure, and (3) the consequence of taking measurements outside of this range.
“People want to latch onto this ‘gotcha’ mentality that technology and enforcement can improve safety, yet we’re not even requiring people entering this industry to have any training or any assurance that they can be safe and successful behind the wheel,” Spencer said.
“A database that would keep records on millions of drivers for 10 years would be a big undertaking,” he adds. “While I’m assuming it’s their belief that it might have an improvement on safety, I would assume that most of the drivers being entered into the database would not have anything like 10 years of experience.
“Drivers without experience are not likely to have any blemishes on their records, but that is not an assurance that they would be safe drivers.”
The FMCSA already collects data from roadside inspections as well as crash reports and stores that information in the Motor Carrier Management Information System. The MCMIS database populates the Pre-Employment Screening Program, and data is also used in the CSA enforcement program. The agency currently maintains records for five years on crashes and three years on violations on drivers.
“From what we’re hearing from our members, the data in that system is not even close to accurate,” Spencer points out.
Should the FMCSA respond with proposed rule change for a 10-year database, the public will get a chance to comment. OOIDA would file comments, Spencer said. LL