Fixing FMCSA: Here’s what we are proposing

By Todd Spencer, OOIDA Executive Vice President

A big item on Congress’ to-do list is consideration and passage of a new highway bill. Most of the talk in Washington, D.C., has been about the uncertainty in future highway spending and the need to fix roads and bridges.

But a new highway bill also represents the best way to make permanent change to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the way they do business.

I am not just talking about individual fixes like ending CSA’s discrimination against small carriers and drivers or bringing back flexibility to how truckers use the 34-hour restart. I am talking about more comprehensive changes that go to the core of FMCSA and how it views safety and truckers. New leadership at the agency would be a huge step, but there are systemic problems within FMCSA that must be overhauled.

OOIDA and truckers have talked about this for years, raised our concerns to FMCSA in comments, in conversations and in lawsuits. While FMCSA has held plenty of listening sessions, our message gets diluted significantly once inside the bureaucratic maze of regulation and enforcement at FMCSA. The agency should not continue to be used as a tool by the big-business sector to squeeze out small businesses.

What we are proposing, and we need the help of all truckers to make this happen, are commonsense improvements that can happen only through Congress.

In fact, the fixes that are needed are all about good, solid government, requiring FMCSA to take more input from truckers and ensuring that the rules they propose not only consider but also reflect that input. Holding a listening session is one thing, but cost and impact are what matters, and FMCSA must consider how their proposals can increase costs and negatively affect small-business truckers.

Our proposals will return FMCSA and the enforcement community to focusing on reducing crashes – the most pro-safety step that can be made. In recent years, truckers know full well how roadside enforcement has transitioned into a “gotcha game” where minor violations rise above the true safety problems. Not only is this a waste of resources, but it also paints an inaccurate picture of your safety record.

So what are we proposing? Aside from a change in leadership, another critical change would be to end the all-too-common practice of FMCSA advancing new rules and regulations with limited input from you and no consideration of how their rule would affect you and your business.

Congress will be the main mechanism to change the way FMCSA does business. We need an independent third party to evaluate FMCSA’s conclusions and play referee in verifying their claims about safety benefits and low costs. We believe that if you look at things honestly and from the perspective of truckers there would be fewer, but much more effective, rules on improving safety.

Speaking of effectiveness in improving safety, the second part of our proposal is to have an independent audit of all of FMCSA’s rules and the way they are enforced on the highway. Just like the recent study that showed only 13 of the 750 rules considered under CSA have a connection to crashes, the review we propose will focus on looking at which regulations on the books have a tie to crashes. But the third-party review we are asking Congress to require also would require FMCSA to take action and remove ineffective rules and reform ineffective programs.

These are changes that, if enacted, will make major improvements to how FMCSA does business, how they look at regulations and safety, and how they interact with small-business truckers. Is this all that OOIDA would do if we made all the decisions? No. But if we don’t demand change where we can, we can expect only more of the same from an agency that needs some basic, core improvements to how it operates.

The only “vehicle” for these reforms is a highway bill, legislation that the House and Senate will consider in the next few months. Our staff is working countless hours educating lawmakers and their staff about the need to take up this bill and to include our proposals.

But we need your help. We need you to call and email your lawmakers with a simple message: Pass a highway bill that fixes FMCSA. LL