Illinois senator wants audit on how FMCSA monitors at-risk trucking companies

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 4/10/2014

A U.S. senator from Illinois is calling for an audit of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration following a deadly crash that killed a state Tollway worker and injured a state trooper.

Sen. Dick Durbin issued a press release Wednesday asking the Department of Transportation’s inspector general to look into how FMCSA monitors trucking companies with checkered safety records. The release cites the Jan. 27 crash involving Naperville-based DND Transportation.

A driver for the company, 46-year-old Renato Velasquez, crashed into an Illinois State Police vehicle and a Tollway vehicle after both drivers had pulled over to assist another driver. FMCSA ordered Velasquez out of service in February, after determining he had only rested between 3 hours, 30 minutes and 5 hours, 30 minutes during the 26-hour period leading up to the crash. It also declared the company an imminent hazard on April 3.

Durbin, a Democrat, is a member of the Commerce Committee’s subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development. His letter takes the FMCSA to task for failing to follow up sooner with an inquiry into DND Transportation, which had a BASIC score of 91.8 percent in Unsafe Driving and a 90.2 percent score in Hours of Service Compliance, according to data from the FMCSA website. Those ratings mean more than 90 percent of other motor carriers in the same safety event group have demonstrated better compliance.

“Earlier intervention and follow-through by FMCSA could have avoided this tragedy and we need a hard look into whether FMCSA is taking the proper steps to keep these accidents waiting to happen off the road,” Durbin stated. “FMCSA should not wait until a crash occurs before following through on investigations they order.”

Tollway worker Vincent Petrella died in the crash and Trooper Douglas Balder remains hospitalized with serious injuries.

A spokeswoman for FMCSA says the agency “is committed to raising the bar for safety in the trucking industry” and said the agency needs more funding for its investigations.

“We are providing safety investigators in Illinois and around the country with enhanced investigation training to dig deeper than ever before and uncover the dangerous patterns of behavior some companies and drivers make every effort to conceal,” FMCSA spokeswoman Marissa Padilla said in an email to Land Line. “We have also repeatedly requested additional funding from Congress to hire more personnel to monitor and investigate the 525,000 commercial companies the agency oversees.”

Padilla said last year in Illinois alone, FMCSA and law enforcement partners investigated more than 750 companies and inspect nearly 68,000 large trucks. Padilla said the agency had to accomplish this “by borrowing staff from other Midwest states.” The agency has about 350 safety inspectors.

The FMCSA’s system for monitoring trucking companies has come under fire recently.

According to a report from The Chicago Tribune, the Government Accountability Office in February published a report that raised questions about whether the current system “is effectively identifying carriers at highest risk for crashing in the future.”

Both the inspector general’s office and the GAO expressed concerns about the reliability of the agency’s data, according to the Tribune report.

An OIG spokesman said the office is planning to undertake a review of FMCSA’s investigative practices, but declined to answer specifics about how long the review might take or what it might entail.

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