Ferro sees ‘raising the bar’ as her legacy

By implementing and proposing new regulations, deploying the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program and cracking down on unfit carriers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the past five years has raised the standards for trucking operations in the United States, departing Administrator Anne Ferro said Thursday.

Ferro, who leaves the agency Aug. 24 to head up the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, spoke with trucking and bus journalists in an “exit interview” with the media.

“I look back on five years with a great deal of pride and satisfaction not only with what we have done but with what is to come,” said Ferro, although she was quick to give the credit to FMCSA’s dedicated managers and employees for “a nationwide passion for saving lives throughout the agency.” She also acknowledged that work done before her to set the stage. “We all build on the success of our predecessors. That is just the nature of governing or leading.”

Perhaps the key theme Ferro pushed was “raising the bar,” she said. That means, first of all, raising standards through initiatives and rules like CSA, medical examiner certification, tighter hours-of-service (HOS) regulations and the proposed mandate of electronic logging devices.

These efforts have raised the standards, but the challenge goes to day-to-day enforcement activities to ensure that carriers operating are doing so safely, Ferro said. “We are using everything in our toolkit to make sure everyone stays safety or gets out of the business.”

Ferro speaks with pride about something that’s quite controversial within the trucking industry – publicizing CSA/Safety Measurement System (SMS) data in order to encourage shippers and brokers to put pressure on carriers. But there’s an enforcement element to the “toolkit” as well, such as the proposed regulations to hold shippers, receivers and brokers – not just carriers – accountable for coercing drivers to violate safety regulations

Indeed, Ferro believes that one indication of FMCSA’s effectiveness in raising the bar would be a future the incorporation of safety into standard logistics benchmarks the way that productivity, on-time performance and fuel economy are today.

The most fundamental indicator of success would be a reduction in the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks – both in absolute terms and in the accident rate, Ferro said. This has been a bit of a sore point because such crashes have risen during her tenure, although that’s arguably a matter of timing as she joined FMCSA when freight volume and mileage were at a low point during the recession.

Another indicator of success will be “vastly improved compensation for drivers,” Ferro said. Driver compensation and working conditions has been a particularly important goal for Ferro. In a May interview with Fleet Owner, she identified pay and working conditions as the No. 1 development that could improve trucking safety.

Ferro said her greatest frustration was an inability to engage the average American on the issue of carrier safety. “This agency serves 350 million people, but my primary conversation is with an audience of about 10 million.” For example, the public doesn’t have a true appreciation of the implications of fatigue, she said. “The public mindset is a 40-hour workweek. If they go into the office and bump into somebody in the hall, they aren’t going to kill them.”

During the hour-long discussion with the motor carrier media, Ferro also addressed some more topical matters, such as the ongoing fight over the HOS restart changes that kicked in in July 2013. Although FMCSA has committed to further study on fatigue in general – two that have begun with the National Academies of Science and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – and the HOS in particular in conjunction with industry partners, Ferro is confident that the changes were based on sound science. And she doubts the validity of concerns raised by the industry.

But Ferro also acknowledges that resistance was inevitable. “At the heart of the tension is the need to move the nation’s freight through a supply chain that wants to squeeze costs out,” she said. “Any constraint to fulfilling a customer’s needs is going to meet resistance. This is an industry that is highly fragmented, highly competitive and highly motivated. That tension will always run up again an hours-of-service rule.”

Ferro also was asked about the timing of her departure, which was announced within a couple of months of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association recommending that she be replaced. Political appointments by their nature are temporary, and “the opportunity to take over at AAMVA is an incredible opportunity,” she said. “It opened up earlier this year, long before OOIDA called for my head.”

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