SPECIAL REPORT: FMCSA wants wider enforcement over carriers and drivers

| 6/12/2003

In June 10 testimony before the Senate Science, Commerce & Transportation Committee, FMCSA Administrator-Designate Annette Sandberg said truck safety would benefit if there were mutual federal and state authority to regulate carriers’ intrastate and interstate operations.

Many interstate motor carriers also have substantial intrastate operations, Sandberg explained. Under current law, however, the FMCSA enforces authority over interstate operations – and states regulate intrastate carrier operations. In other words, if FMCSA declares an interstate carrier unfit to operate, the carrier may continue to operate solely within a state.

Under an FMCSA proposal, “a federal safety determination of an interstate motor carrier suspends both interstate and intrastate operations,” Sandberg said. “Similarly, a state safety determination that an intrastate carrier is unfit halts both its intrastate and any interstate operations.”

Sandberg said Congress had recognized similar precedents in eliminating inter/intrastate distinctions when applied to hazardous materials, drug and alcohol testing, and CDL regulations.

“In these cases, federal regulations apply to the full scope of operations. An unfit carrier should not be allowed to operate anywhere,” she said.

Sandberg added it’s counterproductive to create two classes of accidents and safety inspection data – one subject to federal jurisdiction, the other not – “when, typically, both involve the same vehicles, drivers, dispatchers, mechanics and safety management controls…”

Moreover, “In examining a motor carrier’s accident and inspection data, it is often difficult, and sometimes impossible, to determine whether the vehicle involved was making an interstate or intrastate trip.”

In this and in other matters, such as regulation of household goods carriers, the agency’s “enforcement reach must extend to the intrastate operations of interstate carriers in order to enhance safety and ensure uniformity in enforcement and oversight responsibilities … When our investigators examine a carrier’s operations, they must (currently) discard intrastate safety violations they discover,” Sandberg said.

Issue two: Out-of-service orders and false records

Once issued, an out-of-service order stops a driver from continuing to operate until he or she comes into compliance. In some instances, carriers pressure drivers to violate these orders and consider the safety fines as a cost of doing business.

Currently, that cost – in the form of a maximum civil penalty – amounts to $16,000.

“To be effective, the penalty should be harsh to ensure compliance with the orderIf a carrier knowingly and willfully requires a driver to violate an order, we propose a fine of $100,000, up to one-year imprisonment, or both,” Sandberg said.

She said a few carriers impede investigators by refusing access to records, buildings or equipment or falsifying records to obscure safety violations.

“To deter those who refuse access to their records, we propose a $500 per day fine, up to a maximum of $5,000 for the same violation. Increasing the current fines for false records to $1,000 per day, up to a maximum of $10,000 per violation, would stem this practice,” Sandberg said.

--By Dick Larsen, senior editor

Dick Larsen can be reached at dlarsen@landlinemag.com.