Cover Story
The Simplest Solution
FMCSA finally appears to be makings ome noise about the single most effective safety solution on its plate - driver training. It's kind of hard to hear the sound of progress over the din of the agency's misguided regulatory safety diversions and high-dollar Band-Aids.

By Jami Jones, managing editor

Occam’s Razor is a mathematical principle that, without the Latin and drawn-out explanation, means when you have competing theories offering the same conclusion, the simplest solution is the best.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials like to tout safety as the primary agenda of the agency – as it should be. The problem is, they’re going about it all wrong.

The agency keeps posing as trying to get the bleeding stopped with all of these new regulations like electronic logs, speed limiters and even increasing the insurance requirements on half-baked, complicated theories that they will make the roads safer.

Yet, for decades, the Department of Transportation and now the FMCSA have not implemented the one regulation that would make the roads safer almost immediately – entry-level driver training standards.

Fortunately, the agency is embarking on a negotiated rulemaking to develop entry-level driver training standards. The members of the committee who will be charged with this task have been named (See Page 34), and the first organizational meeting was held in late February.

In the meantime, however, the agency isn’t backing down or slowing down on other rulemakings that will do more harm than good and is ignoring legitimate research along with a heaping helping of common sense.

ELDs and speed limiters: Still falling short

FMCSA is full-steam ahead, barreling toward a full mandate of electronic logging devices with a proposed rule in the works for speed limiters. The agency is ignoring its own data and working off presumptions that these technologies will prevent drivers from violating the regs.

In 2013, the OOIDA Foundation pulled data from FMCSA’s CSA database and compared a group of speed-limited, electronic logging motor carriers to a group that did not use the technologies.

The motor carriers using speed limiters and electronic logs were:

  • Werner Enterprises Inc.
  • Schneider National
  • J.B. Hunt Transport Inc.
  • Swift Transportation Co.
  • C.R. England Inc.
  • U.S. Xpress
  • Knight Transportation Inc., and
  • Maverick Transportation LLC

    Motor carriers not using the technology were:

  • Dart Transit Co.
  • Bennett Motor Express LLC
  • Landstar Inway Inc., and
  • Landstar Ranger Inc.

The crash data showed in most cases that the speed-limited/EOBR pool of motor carriers racked up more crashes per power unit and per driver.

Three of the seven speed-limited/EOBR motor carriers – J.B. Hunt, Schneider and Maverick – had fewer crashes per driver than a couple of the non-speed-limited carriers. Only

J.B. Hunt and Maverick had better crash rates per vehicle than the non-speed-limited/ELD group.

Conversely, Werner, C.R. England, Swift, U.S. Xpress and Knight have higher crash rates per vehicle and per driver than the non-speed-limited/ELD group. Factor in vehicle miles traveled and carriers such as Landstar Ranger and Landstar Inway travel nearly twice as far in between crashes as

C.R. England and Werner. The Landstar companies average well over 1.8 million miles per crash. C.R. England is at 990,000 miles per crash and Werner at 910,500 miles per crash.

Overall, the speed limiters and electronic logs did nothing to produce a significantly lower crash rate than those motor carriers without them.

Raising insurance requirements: All about the money

The agency has been toying with the idea of raising the minimum insurance requirements since earlier in the year when it released a report on financial responsibility.

In the report the agency noted that the current minimum insurance requirements of $750,000 for general freight and $1 million for hazmat were set in 1985. The report states that minimum insurance for general freight coverage would be $1.7 million now factoring in the cost of medical inflation, based on the medical consumer price index.

OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley points out that a footnote to the study used as the basis for the report says that approximately 74 crashes per year occur that are above the minimum level. However, the study conducted by Volpe National Transportation Systems Center did not consider fault in the crashes studied.

Bowley points out that between 75 and 85 percent of crashes – depending on what research you use – are the fault of the passenger car driver. That would drive the number of truck driver-responsible crashes to fewer than 20.

In the end, 99.4 percent of all crashes are covered by the current required insurance levels. Even in government work, 99.4 percent is success.

The only plausible explanation for pursuing any increase – which is clearly not needed – is that the agency is caving to pressure from attorneys who like to rake in mega awards and take off with 30 to 40 percent of them and self-insured motor carriers who want to drive up the costs of small-business truckers.

Safer highways? It’s so obvious

The need for driver training has been recognized for decades. A comprehensive solution has existed for more than 30 years. The Federal Highway Administration – which regulated the trucking industry at the time – developed a model curriculum for driver training in 1985 with the help of industry leaders like OOIDA.

For 30 years nearly 2,500 pages worth of instructor, student and administrator training manuals have held the solution to the driver training problem.

There have been adequacy reports that tout it as the solution because the private sector isn’t getting the driver training job done. Regulatory benefit has been proven. Even the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit weighed in and held it out as the standard, via the adequacy report, when it tossed FMCSA’s attempt to mandate driver training without any time behind the wheel back in 2003.

Time and again, it’s just common sense. Better trained drivers will be more successful and safe early on in their careers.

FMCSA’s feet are being held to the fire. A court ruling and Congress have said make driver training standards happen. In early February, the agency announced the members of the negotiated rulemaking committee who will develop these mandated training standards. The committee members represent an across-the-board representation of the trucking industry. OOIDA is a member of the committee.

The challenge for this committee is not to get stalled in the minutia and misdirection that has been used to water down, stonewall and flat out derail previous attempts. When all is said and done, the simplest approach will be Occam’s Razor – the program that already exists. Grab that 2,500-page training program, update it and get it mandated.

The sooner we get this regulation

in place and the highways become safer thanks to more quality drivers, the sooner we can tell FMCSA to knock it off with the gimmicks and gadgetry. LL