A Dept. of Transportation Office of Inspector General (OIG) report has concluded that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has strengthened its enforcement efforts but areas for improvement remain-- especially in tracking repeat violators. Additionally, the FMCSA audit provided a glimpse of upcoming initiatives and rulemakings.
Repeat violator loopholes
OIG identified loopholes in FMCSA’s repeat violator policy, one of which was in FMCSA’s “three strikes” policy issued in September 2000. Because the agency did not implement it properly, on December 2004 it published a policy clarification in the Federal Register. To date, this essentially took a six-year timeframe in which to accrue repeat-violator data and delayed it four years.
“Violations committed before December 2004 may not count against repeat violators,” stated OIG. “Motor carriers who committed violations from September 2000 to March 2004 will essentially be given a clean slate.”
Between September 2000 and December 2004, FMCSA enforced maximum civil penalties against 146 carriers. OIG indicated it identified 71 additional carriers that repeatedly violated safety regs but were not assessed maximum penalties.
Separately, OIG noted FMCSA has omitted some violations from a carrier’s Notice of Claim based on “legislative restrictions when assessing fines,” such as the carrier’s ability to pay. As a result, these violations were not used to identify a pattern of violations, which allowed repeat violators of the same regulation to escape maximum penalties.
Between September 2000 and October 2004, 533 carriers repeatedly violated either the hours of service or drug and alcohol regulations, and 67 violated both repeatedly. Of those carriers, only 33 (6%) received the maximum penalty, as a result of incomplete documentation of violations, OIG said.
“This loophole allows hundreds of motor carriers to repeatedly violate significant safety rules without exposure to maximum penalties,” OIG stated. “Although it is important to consider a motor carrier’s ability to pay a fine, this principle should not override congressional concerns about repeat violators.”
OIG recommends that the agency should assess no-fine penalties when appropriate or any other means to legally notify a carrier that future violations may result in a maximum fine.
FMCSA disagreed with that recommendation, stating “to include ‘unenforced violations’ as ‘found’ violations…violates principals of due process and fair play.”
Data quality = SafeStat quality
About 192,000 (27%) of 702,277 existing carriers failed to update census data on drivers and trucks. Yet since 2002, only 20 civil penalties have been imposed against those carriers.
OIG recommended that FMCSA levy fines to crack down on carriers that fail to update their census data. That idea received a lukewarm response from the agency. “Failure to comply with the census data updating requirement is neither an acute nor a critical violation,” FMCSA stated.
Separately, confusion remains at the state level on what defines a large truck crash. This results in inconsistent reporting, said OIG.
“Data quality is especially important because census and crash data are used by SafeStat to rank the safety performance of motor carriers and target compliance reviews and inspections,” stated OIG. “Without this critical data, FMCSA cannot effectively identify all high-risk motor carriers.”
Initiatives to watch for:
- FMCSA expects it will submit legislative recommendations to Congress based on its Large Crash Causation Study no later than June.
- FMCSA anticipates it will issue a notice of proposed rulemaking to link the medical certification to the CDL “later in 2006.”
To read the full OIG report, go to www.oig.dot.gov/StreamFile?file=/data/pdfdocs/MH-2006-046.pdf.