SPECIAL REPORT: House panel urges FMCSA to act on safety issues

| 6/14/2006

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration officials need to reduce the number of motor carriers with poor safety practices and expedite the revisions of the driver training standards, according to a House Appropriation Committee report.

In its report to Congress recommending FMCSA's funding for the 2007 fiscal year, House Appropriations Committee members drew attention to deficiencies in those two program areas.

"The Committee is concerned that 15 years has elapsed without the issuance of a comprehensive entry-level driver training standard," Committee members wrote in the report.

"The Committee believes that FMCSA should expedite its revisions to the driver training rule and carefully consider the obvious benefits of a comprehensive training requirement that includes on-street, behind-the-wheel skills training for entry-level truck drivers."

The Committee members aren't alone in their thinking.

A federal appeals court ruled Dec. 2, 2005, that the FMCSA's driver-training rule is "patently illogical" and ordered the agency to take the rule back to the drawing board.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and two safety advocate groups filed the federal lawsuit against FMCSA in 2004. The Association filed the lawsuit because the FMCSA's rule does not require any training behind the wheel.

Senior Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards used strong language in writing the ruling for the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. He wrote that FMCSA ignored its own evidence and "entirely failed to consider important aspects of the CMV training problems . and it adopted a final rule whose terms have almost nothing to do with an 'adequate' CMV training program."

The rule in question was mandated by Congress in 1991, but it took the federal agency 13 years to write it. During those 13 years, the agency did a study to find out what type of training was needed.

Judge Edwards used the FMCSA's own words from that study to condemn the driver-training rule. The judge pointed out in the first paragraph of the 26-page ruling that the FMCSA's own study "concluded . that in order for any training program to be 'adequate,' it must include 'on-street hours' of training."

The ruling repeatedly refers to the agency's failure to use its own evidence.

"The agency, without coherent explanation, has promulgated a rule that is so at odds with the record assembled by the DOT that the action cannot stand," Judge Edwards wrote. "Accordingly, we grant the petitions for review and remand the final rule to the agency for further rulemaking consistent with this opinion."

". the final rule completely ignores the agency's study's emphasis on practical, on-the-road training. The agency has adopted a rule with little apparent connection to the inadequacies it purports to address."

Neither the court, nor the Appropriations Committee gave FMCSA a deadline or schedule for rewriting the driver-training rule.

The Appropriations Committee members also expressed concern over the safety compliance review program.

"The Committee continues to be concerned that only a very small percentage of registered motor carriers undergo a safety compliance review each year," the report said.

"FMCSA's own fiscal year 2007 budget submission estimates that only 10,000 compliance reviews will be conducted by the agency in fiscal year 2006 out of approximately 685,000 registered interstate motor carriers - less than 1.5 percent of registered motor carriers."

The report mentions that the National Transportation Safety Board has included truck safety on its current list of Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements, citing that "FMCSA's entire safety fitness regime operates too leniently with criteria that do not result frequently enough in dangerous unsafe motor carriers being shut down."

The Committee members' concern over the safety compliance reviews evidently was strong enough that FMCSA was directed in the report account to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations no later than March 1, 2007.

Agency officials are to report on how the compliance review process will be revised to improve detection of motor carriers with poor safety practices and shut downtheir operations.

- By Jami Jones, senior editor

Staff editor Coral Beach contributed to this report.