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Election year will stall regulatory activity, says Sandberg

June 6, 2012

San Diego. Annette Sandberg, principal of TransSafe Consulting, LLC and former Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) administrator, advised attendees at Qualcomm’s Vision 2012 Management Conference here today, to expect a lull in federal regulatory activity from August until early 2012. The good news concerning regulations is that this is an election year, so not much will happen, she told the packed opening session of the conference. The bad news is that once the election is over, no matter who is elected there is apt to be a lot of regulatory activity.

“In Washington, DC around August, things slow down or stop,” Sandberg observed. “The incumbent does not want anything to ‘pop up’ and upset the campaign [and if the other party is elected, nothing will happen until a new cabinet is in place and confirmed.]”

Funding of the Highway Reauthorization Bill is among those actions that Sandberg does not expect to take place in 2012. “We do not think reauthorization will happen this year,” she said, “but in the 2013-2014 timeframe, there are regulations embedded in the Bill that will probably move ahead because they are in both the House and Senate versions.”

The fate of the perpetually pending EOBR (electronic onboard recorder) regulation is also still on hold, according to Sandberg, but an industry-wide mandate is “likely in the next five years.”  A Notice of Supplemental Rulemaking was intended for February 2013, she noted, but while it is not apt to be published then, the industry will probably see it later in the year.

Sandberg did, however, offer a serious warning for carriers that are currently using GPS, but not for electronic logging. “Any carrier using GPS should audit their drivers’ logs against GPS now if they are not currently doing so,” Sandberg advised, “even if they are not using GPS for Hours of Service (HOS).” She noted that drivers can be poor at doing paperwork, which can leave carriers open to log falsification determinations that can result in automatic safety rating downgrades.

Hours of Service regulations will likely end up in the courts again, she added. “Either side may challenge the rule and there are dozens of unexplained, contradictory conclusions [about the 11-hour limit/34-hour reset] provisions.”

Still, Sandberg said she believed that “CSA is here to stay,” in spite of the fact that there are apt to be more changes to the evaluation/rating process in the future. “We really believed that the old system was cumbersome and did not allow the agency to see enough carriers,” she said.

Today, according to Sandberg, there are about 700,000 registered carriers in the FMCSA database, about 540,000 of which are actively doing business. However, there are still only about 1,000 agency people charged with monitoring the activities of those fleets. “We must measure more carriers,” she noted, “and we must make it fair.”

Among the actions Sandberg recommended to make CSA fair were:

  •  Crashes clearly not the fault of the truck driver should be set aside.
  •  Warning tickets for moving violations should not be counted the same as actual citations (as they are now)
  • Dismissed citations should not go against the driver
  • Violation severity weights should be revisited
  • The definition of Haz-Mat is still an issue and should be examined
  • Carriers should get to see drivers’ safety management scores before they are hired

 Carriers should “use every channel possible to push for needed changes to CSA,” Sandberg said, adding that the conversation must be constructive to be effective. “If the conversation can be constructive, not just critical, [it can be useful],” she noted. “Say, here’s what is wrong and here is how it could be fixed.”  

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