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Is rewarding safe fleets the best use of FMCSA resources?

Dec. 23, 2015
FMCSA seeks input on whether to reward truck fleets for their use of safety technologies that go beyond federal mandates. But is that the best use of resources?

Rewarding good behavior? Sounds great, doesn’t it? When many of us were kids, did we get rewarded for good behavior? Sometimes, but more often than not, it was just expected. But what about those times where we went above and beyond? Did we help an older lady with her groceries? If so, maybe we got an ice cream as a reward.

Now, the FMCSA is considering rewarding fleets that go above and beyond, and it sounds like a win-win for everyone, until it comes to make such a program work.

Here’s the backstory: Late in 2014, FMCSA raised the possibility that it would address “alternative compliance” for carriers. Then, earlier this year, the agency announced that it would embark on a possible rulemaking on something called “beyond compliance.” What is beyond compliance, exactly? It’s a concept pushed by many, including the ATA, TCA and backed by studies from the American Transportation Research Institute Report (ATRI). In essence, truck fleets would be rewarded in some way, perhaps, as ATRI suggested, through credits given to carriers on the BASIC scores, for installing safety technology that goes beyond what is mandated. Think advanced safety technologies and driver health and wellness programs, for instance.

Now, FMCSA has announced it will conduct two listening sessions on the subject, giving industry leaders the chance to weigh in. The first session will be held on Jan. 12, 2016, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., (local time), at the Kentucky International Convention Center, Room 108, 221 Fourth St., Louisville, KY. The Jan. 31, 2016, session will be held at the Georgia World Congress Center, Building C, 285 Andrew Young International Blvd NW, Atlanta, GA.

The broad interest in the subject shows the industry is ready and willing to be rewarded for its safety initiatives. There are plenty of fleets that already go above and beyond when it comes to their safety programs. Now FMCSA may want to reward them in some way.

The listening sessions will go a long way to helping determine if that is possible, and what fleets may want in return.

The question, though, will remain if beyond compliance is a viable concept. In theory, it’s wonderful, but can FMCSA actually implement it?

Bill Quade, FMCSA associate administrator of enforcement, gave Fleet Owner some insight into the matter when speaking with our Kevin Jones for our January print magazine cover story on regulations.

“I love the concept of beyond compliance,” Quade says, “but I don’t have enough people to go see all of the bad carriers. So I certainly don’t want to divert them to go make sure the good carriers are doing what they say they’re trying to do. But without a verification aspect, that program is not going to survive.”

And therein lies the real problem. Should the government be spending precious resources on verifying that safe carriers are doing more than their competitors, or is that money better spent on getting unsafe fleets and drivers off the road?

It’s a valid question.

I’m all for safety, as is nearly everyone in the industry. But, for all the good things and positive publicity the industry has received (think Wreaths Across America among thousands of other good deeds performed every day by drivers and carriers alike), it will only take one driver whose employer is operating on a shoestring budget to slam into a minivan full of people on their way to Christmas dinner at grandmas to wipe out all the good deeds.

That’s just the reality.

Now, if there is a viable solution that doesn’t stretch agency dollars too thin, I’m all for beyond compliance. Maybe affidavits from fleets and suppliers that this technology has been properly installed would suffice? Maybe there is a better way still. Hopefully the listening sessions will flush those ideas out.

But if it means FMCSA must spend additional resources to verify fleets have installed the latest safety technology or implemented a new safety program, then maybe beyond compliance’s time has not come. If it means allocating finances that are already stretched thin, then maybe beyond compliance needs to wait.

If the idea is increase the adoption of these technologies and programs beyond what is called for in current regulatory compliance, than perhaps the easiest route are additional tax credits for adoption by fleets.

But if the introduction of a system means than an inspector will not get to examine a fleet whose driver is about to kill someone because the equipment is not up to snuff, the results may not be worth the effort.

Even the best intentions don’t always work in real life. That may be the case here. That’s just the reality.

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