A new day at FMCSA

Anne Ferro has made it through the confirmation process and is now the top administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over objections from several groups. That will probably seem like the easy part, as she must now start building a consensus within the department as it embarks on a review of several issues important to the industry. The organization just announced it

Anne Ferro has made it through the confirmation process and is now the top administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over objections from several groups. That will probably seem like the easy part, as she must now start building a consensus within the department as it embarks on a review of several issues important to the industry. The organization just announced it will rewrite hours of service (HOS) rules and expects to have a new regulation within two years. She herself acknowledged the importance of the issues facing FMCSA during her confirmation hearing and indicated she supports a rewrite of current HOS rules.

“Whoever leads this agency must foster frank discussions about the fundamentals in the freight supply chain and motor coach industries that encourage participants to push the limits and put the driving public and other commercial drivers at risk,” Ferro said. “The agency must get on with considering a universal electronic onboard recorder rule, improving the hours of service rule, rolling out tougher standards for entry, implementing effective identification and sanctioning high-risk carriers.”

FMCSA announced it would be rewriting HOS regulations on the same day that the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation voted to forward Ferro's nomination to the full Senate. This news was met by swift, and loud, protests from industry groups. FMCSA quickly responded with a promise to prepare a new notice of proposed rulemaking in nine months and to reach a final rule in 21 months.

Some experts believe the result will be proposals to push back available driver hours. Others contend the effort to change HOS rules will absorb too much of the agency's time, time that could be better spent in other ways to improve safety.

“My take is this [HOS reform] effort is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time,” John Hill, the immediate past administrator of FMCSA, told Fleet Owner. “I am a little surprised that there's not more focus on an effort to mandate EOBRs [electronic onboard recorders] as that technology would do a lot more to improve highway safety than just changing the current 11-hour drive time limit back to 10 hours. I think [the issue of] EOBRs is where we need to go to really improve safety.”

Public Citizen and other groups, notably Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Truck Safety Coalition, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, have argued that scientific studies do not support the retention of the 11th hour of driving and 34-hour restart provisions, and that those provisions put driver health and public safety at risk.

The big concern over HOS reform in trucking, not surprisingly, centers on a potential reduction in available driving hours.

“Tighter regulations will surely be the result, probably moving back to a 10-hour driving limit and some change to the reset provisions,” Noel Perry, a principle with the Transport Fundamentals consulting group, told Fleet Owner. “The economics are simple: There will be a productivity hit of 3 to 6% depending on the reset provisions, and this will ultimately get passed on to the customers.”

Despite a career spent largely in state and local government, with seven years spent as Maryland's Motor Vehicle Administrator, Ferro's nomination drew the wrath of advocacy groups such as Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways and Parents Against Tired Truckers, thanks to her service over the past six years as president of the Maryland Motor Truck Assn.

“Highway and truck safety organizations, consumer and environmental groups as well as families who have lost children and loved ones in truck crashes are opposing her nomination,” the two groups said in a memo circulated to their members on Oct. 5. “The individual appointed to lead this agency should not come from the very industry the agency is required to regulate.”

It's easy to see why Ferro now has a lot of hard work ahead of her.

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