Time for a change at FMCSA

By Jim Johnston, OOIDA President and CEO

A recent blog posted by Anne Ferro, head of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, loudly proclaimed in its headline, “Congress Shouldn’t Roll Back Safety.”  This post included pictures of people involved in tragic accidents with trucks, young children and families who lost loved ones, as well as a picture of a horrific truck accident.

While any serious accident, especially one that involves the loss of life, is a terrible tragedy, to villainize an entire industry to justify an unworkable, unreasonable and unsafe regulation is simply unconscionable. More than that, it is also against the law for an executive branch government employee to use government resources in an attempt to influence legislative actions.

The attempt to roll back safety that Administrator Ferro is referring to is the legislation that would put on hold the HOS provision that requires two periods off-duty between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. in order to use the 34-hour restart. That’s the provision, of course, that forces everyone using the restart to start the work period in the busiest rush hour traffic.

In fact, the legislation wouldn’t even eliminate the provision. It would simply put it on hold pending a comprehensive study of its effects on safety, an effort that was not made by FMCSA prior to implementing this ridiculous rule.

Ferro goes on to mention that the industry is “experiencing unprecedented profits” (really!) and that since 2009 there has been an “18 percent increase in large truck crash fatalities.” Is it just a coincidence that Ferro was put in charge of FMCSA in 2009 – a period during which we have seen the largest increase ever in the regulatory burden imposed on hardworking truckers?

This, of course, is not the only reason I wrote the letter on behalf of the OOIDA Board to DOT Secretary Foxx calling for her resignation. Ferro has absolutely been one of the most accessible administrators to serve in that position, holding numerous listening sessions that afforded truckers the opportunity to provide input on the issues. The problem is that despite the fact that many truckers invested their valuable time to provide input, she really wasn’t listening to those who were most qualified to influence those issues – the true professionals who actually operate the trucks over the highways of the country.

For example, truckers spoke at the listening sessions about the fact that comprehensive entry-level driver training would offer the greatest possible safety improvement. Did the agency move forward on that initiative? No, they did not. Instead, they put driver training on the back burner yet again and instead invested agency resources on such issues as electronic monitoring systems to track drivers’ locations and compliance with hours-of-service regulations; more restrictive HOS regulations; and CSA and PSP systems that record every violation in a federal database with no reliable opportunity to correct unjust violations – even those that have been overturned by a court of law.

They have created a system of registered medical examiners and required them to push for expensive sleep apnea testing despite the fact that Congress passed legislation requiring them not to impose this requirement without going through a formal rulemaking process to determine its cost and benefits. They have been pushing to allow Mexican trucks to operate freely on U.S. highways (who by the way would be exempted from using doctors in the medical registry) even to the point of sending representatives down to recruit Mexican truckers into their pilot program.

They turned a blind eye to the outrageous Minnesota fatigue program that even a federal judge ruled violated truckers’ Constitutional rights. They ignore and even encourage and fund state enforcement practices operating under their direction that write up every nitpicking supposed violation that damages drivers’ reputations and jeopardizes their livelihoods.

And now they have placed as a high-priority initiative an effort to substantially increase required liability insurance minimums that will threaten the very existence of small-business truckers as a supposed safety benefit. In reality, the only beneficiaries will be personal injury lawyers and large trucking companies.

I could go on with many more examples, but the bottom line is that truckers can’t stand any more of this onslaught of damaging regulations. Many good, experienced professional truckers have already thrown up their hands in disgust and despair at what is happening and left the business. Many more are also considering the same. We desperately need a change in direction at FMCSA – a change that will respect and acknowledge the important work that truckers do rather than continuing to punish them as though they were flagrant lawbreakers terrorizing the highways.

I think we laid out the situation pretty accurately with a comment we made in testimony a while back on FMCSA’s draft strategic plan:

“After years of observation and interaction, OOIDA is left with the impression that FMCSA treats drivers much as a child treats a piñata at a birthday party. If it can only continue to beat it with a stick, surely something good will fall out of the bottom.”

The only way a change in direction will occur is with a change in leadership. So far, DOT has ignored my request, and the only way that will happen is with a strong outcry from those who are impacted most by what is happening. I encourage you all to let your voices be heard by contacting your elected representatives to demand that changes be made! LL