OOIDA tells FMCSA drivers must be partners, not piñatas

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 8/4/2011

If the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to further reduce crashes and injuries on the road, OOIDA says the agency must finally embrace truck drivers as partners in solutions, not the villains.

That message was delivered via comments filed on Aug. 2 by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association on the agency’s proposed five-year strategic plan.

“Every CMV accident involves a driver whose actions and interactions with others on the road could have a positive impact on highway safety,” the Association’s comments state. “Curiously, drivers are not identified by FMCSA as partners in the efforts to achieve higher levels of safety. The proposed Strategic Plan all too often treats drivers as piñatas rather than partners in the quest for safer highways.

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

The comments detail ways that FMCSA officials must modify the strategic plan to address the “real world that drivers face every day.”

Highlighting the significant role that economics play in highway safety, the Association points out that if FMCSA truly wants to improve highway safety, than it must change its enforcement focus from one that is almost entirely directed to punishing drivers to one that “proactively and forcefully” supports the driver.

Specifically, OOIDA encouraged the agency to move forward with its proposal to widen its regulatory jurisdiction to address the entire supply chain that has a direct result in driver performance on the road.

The Association stated that it fully supports FMCSA imposing greater responsibility on all parties who have an influence on the demands of drivers in truck transportation.

“FMCSA must recognize that as it tries to change driver behavior to encourage compliance with the rules, economic pressure is clearly the greatest negative influence on driver behavior. That pressure comes in many forms to a driver.”

Issues such as detention time, broker reform, hours of service, lumping, protecting drivers from harassment and retaliation must all be considered when attempting to further reduce highway crashes, the Association points out.

And, when enforcing existing regulations, the agency must do so in a way that protects drivers from the “under-the-radar retaliation that good drivers face.”

The Association pointed to the system used by motor carriers through HireRight – formerly USIS and DAC. The system permits carriers to tell potential future employers whether the driver had a late delivery, refused a load, etc., even if those actions were the result of refusing to violate the federal regulations. In the end, the motor carrier’s report can effectively make drivers unemployable in the future.

“These can be the consequences to a good driver trying to make a living in compliance with the (federal motor carrier safety regulations),” OOIDA leadership points out in the comments.

Much of FMCSA’s proposal involved the agency’s intention to move forward in the digital age of enforcement.

OOIDA continues to caution FMCSA about privacy and data quality issues involved with databases containing violation histories and even the proposed drug clearing house.

“OOIDA’s foremost concern is that drivers have easy access to such information, that unauthorized parties get no access to it, that such information is correct and accurate, privacy is protected and that the driver has a fair and impartial process for correcting such information,” the Association comments state.

“Thus far, we’re not encouraged that FMCSA’s management of systems containing driver data honors these principals.”

The Association went on to emphasize the point by addressing concerns with databases such as the retrieving information from the Pre-Employment Screening Program and the inequities built into the data challenge process through the DataQ system under CSA.

“OOIDA members have complained their PSP comes to them in as a completely non-readable Excel spreadsheet. Drivers should be able to get a copy of the PSP that is readable, understandable and not have to go through the lengthy (Freedom of Information Act) process,” the comments state. “Why should it be much more difficult for a driver to see his own records than motor carriers and other parties going through FMCSA’s third party contractors?”

Additionally, when it comes to existing data, the Association leadership again addressed the agency’s refusal to deal with dismissed or overturned violations, allowing them to remain in the CSA database.

OOIDA has informed Administrator Anne Ferro by letter of drivers who have had citations for FMCSR violations dismissed or overturned in state court, but have been denied the opportunity to correct those citations through the DataQ system.

OOIDA believes that FMCSA’s efforts in this area “fall far short of achieving the goals of system accuracy and fair access by drivers.”

While many of FMCSA’s proposals would take some time to implement and address, the Association’s leadership directed the agency’s attention to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, or CVSA, overstepping its own authority through out-of-service orders, as something that needs immediately addressed.

The Association points out apart from situations involving drugs and alcohol, the regulations only authorize out-of-service orders for HOS and log book violations and that CVSA has no legal authority to legislate substantive violations or penalties.

The comments point to the recent court case against the Minnesota State Patrol in which it was revealed during the trial that fatigue out-of-service orders outlined in CVSA’s enforcement program  are actually punitive, not remedial.

“CVSA has no legal authority to legislate substantive violations or penalties,” the comments state. “FMCSA’s failure to provide leadership here has created a vacuum within which confusion and uncertainty reign.”

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