ALEXANDRIA, VA. In a speech to the International Truck and Bus Safety & Security Symposium here, Annette Sandberg, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), outlined a new effort on the part of the agency to concentrate more on truck driver-related issues.
“Our blueprint for the future … is to really focus on driver behavior; to restructure our [safety] programs so we focus more on drivers and move away from vehicles,” she said. “This is not to say that vehicle safety won’t be any less important. But what we’ve found is that driver error – both on the part of car and truck drivers – is the biggest factor in what leads up to and causes truck-car crashes. That’s why we are shifting our focus.”
As part of this strategic shift, Sandberg is preparing FMCSA to start work on a range of issues in the coming year:
Development of a CDL learner’s permit: Sandberg said a rulemaking on this proposal will begin next year. This permit will be based on a single federal set of standards, as, in her words “States have too much variation in their CDL [commercial drivers license] regulatory scheme,” which is why a single federal standard is being proposed.
Inclusion of the driver medical certificate with the CDL: Sandberg said FMCSA will work to combine a truck driver’s medical certificate with the CDL, so they become one single document. “That way a state patrol office instantly knows if the driver is medically cleared to drive and the driver does not need to hunt around his or her truck for other papers,” she said.
Tougher medical examiner standards: Sandberg said she wants to “close the gap” in medical qualifications for drivers as the National Traffic Safety Board [NTSB] is finding drivers involved in accidents who should never have been put behind the wheel. “We had a case where a doctor tried to clear a driver with a morphine pump,” she said. “Clearly, we need to make sure doctors understand thoroughly the job they are clearing these drivers to perform – so we need to make sure they are held to strict standards.”
More fatigue research: Along with FMCSA’s counterpart agency in Canada, Transport Canada, Sandberg hopes to increase research on fatigue factors and especially focus on the physical problems associated with sleep apnea. “We know that the majority of truckers are overweight at a far higher percentage than the general population and that’s exacerbated by a poor diet and lack of exercise – all increasing risk factors for a variety of health problems,” she said.
Wireless roadside inspection technology: Sandberg wants to encourage development of technology that would allow federal safety inspectors to “plug into” trucks so they can get a quick read on vehicle issues. This will also allow them to focus more attention on drivers.
Expansion of FMCSA's TACT program: Piloted this year in the state of Washington, TACT [Targeting Aggressive Cars and Trucks] puts state troopers in commercial trucks to write citations for aggressive behavior they see on the part of both cars and truckers. So far in Washington State, 86% of the TACT citations are for car drivers, with only 14% for truckers. “This is part of our broader effort of education and outreach to get the public to change bad driving habits,” Sandberg said. “We have money to fund similar initiatives in other states and hope to do so soon.”
Carrier safety isn’t going to get any lower priority from FMCSA. Sandberg said she is planning to start reorganizing how FMCSA monitors carrier safety records this December, especially in how the agency conducts compliance reviews (CRs). “We have over 870,000 carriers in our database, but we conduct CRs on 12,000 a year,” she said. “What we need to do is focus on the problem carriers and drivers and we plan to make a big push on this in 2006.”
Finally, she stressed that FMCSA has no plans to take on an “ICC-like role.” She said the agency will continue to distance itself from the debate over low freight rates shippers pay truckers. The lack of trucking capacity now in the marketplace, Sandberg noted, “should give carriers enough leverage to deal with rate and wait time issues.”