NTSB recommends audits of FMCSA oversight programs

By Land Line staff | 11/7/2013

Two truck wrecks and two bus crashes – all resulting in multiple fatalities – and their ensuing investigations prompted the National Transportation Safety Board on Nov. 7 to call for audits of the Federal Motor Carrier Administration’s oversight of the truck and bus industries.

The NTSB investigated four separate crashes that resulted in 25 deaths and 83 injuries. During the course of those investigations, NTSB investigators identified safety deficiencies and noted red flags that were present before the crashes, but unnoticed or not acted upon by FMCSA, an NTSB press release states.

The wrecks prompting the recommended audits include two truck crashes.

The first happened on March 2 near Elizabethtown, Ky. A truck operated by Highway Star was traveling approximately 67 mph north on Interstate 65 when it encountered slowing traffic. The NTSB press release states the driver did not brake until just before hitting the rear of a 1999 Ford Expedition. The Ford burst into flames after impact and six of the eight occupants died as a result of the crash.

The FMCSA had completed a focused compliance review five days before the crash. The review did not include hours-of-service compliance. Following the crash, FMCSA conducted a full compliance review. The agency gave Highway Star an “unsatisfactory” rating and issued an imminent hazard out-of-service order for not monitoring diverse hours of service, permitting drivers to falsify logbooks, and failing to preserve records of duty status.

The second crash happened on June 13 near Murfreesboro, Tenn. A truck operated by H&O Transport out of Louisville, Ky., collided with eight vehicles that had slowed in the eastbound lanes of Interstate 24. Two people died in a vehicle that overturned and caught fire. Six others were injured.

According to the NTSB, the driver was in violation of the hours of service at the time of the crash. The motor carrier had several other drivers with similar violations, “many of which the FMCSA was aware (of) through roadside inspections and previous compliance reviews.

In 2011 FMCSA had conducted a focused compliance review on H&O Transport and allowed the company to continue operating. Following the 2013 crash, FMCSA conducted a post-crash compliance review and found gave the motor carrier a conditional rating and allowed them to continue operating.

The NTSB recommendation for an audit of FMCSA’s compliance oversight is also prompted by two bus crashes this year that resulted in 16 fatalities and 70 injuries combined.

“While FMCSA deserves recognition for putting bad operators out of business, they need to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high visibility events,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. “Our investigators found, that in many cases, the poor performing company was on FMCSA’s radar for violations, but was allowed to continue operating and was not scrutinized closely until they had deadly crashes.”

The NTSB found concerns with both the thoroughness and quality of FMCSA’s compliance reviews and their increasing reliance on focused compliance reviews, which examine only a limited portion of the commercial operation. Consequently, the NTSB is issuing two safety recommendations to the Department of Transportation, calling on it to conduct audits on these oversight activities and to address any problems uncovered by the audits.

“Increasing safety to save lives and prevent bus and truck crashes is at the heart of our mission at FMCSA,” a statement released by the agency stated. “In the past three years, we have more than tripled the number of unsafe companies and drivers we have taken off the road through more comprehensive investigations.

“We have also brought together key safety, industry and enforcement organizations to ask for their help and support our efforts. We are continuously looking for new ways to make our investigation methods even more effective so we shut down unsafe companies before a crash occurs and will thoroughly review the NTSB’s findings.”

The agency pointed to recent enforcement activity which has issued 84 imminent hazard out-of-service orders to truck and bus companies since the beginning of 2011. In 2013 there have been an additional 25 bus companies shut down following compliance reviews and the issuance of “unsatisfactory” compliance ratings.

There has also been an uptick in the agency’s enforcement on individual CDL holders in 2013 with seven drivers being declared imminent hazards and blocked from operating in interstate commerce.

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