Josh Fisher | FleetOwner
Sue Lawless, acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, speaks during the Truckload Carrier Association's Truckload 2024 conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

FMCSA outlines latest trucking safety initiatives

March 26, 2024
In an address before the Truckload Carriers Association, the FMCSA’s leader commends trucking leaders for their commitment to safety and lays out the agency’s focus on reducing road deaths and giving truck drivers a safer world.

NASHVILLE—The acting head of trucking’s federal oversight agency told the Truckload Carriers Association members that safe trucking fleets are critical to the government’s nationwide Zero Deaths initiative. 

Speaking during a Truckload 2024 luncheon here, Sue Lawless, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s acting administrator, updated the audience of trucking executives on industry safety initiatives, including truck parking, detention time, and safety technology pushes. 

“We believe that if you are safe at work, then our roadways will be safe because of it,” Lawless said. “And you’re here today as proof of that proposition. We recently updated the department’s National Roadway Safety Strategy, which sets a goal of zero deaths. Zero is an ambitious goal, but we believe it is the only acceptable number.”

See also: FMCSA looks at fairness of lease-purchase agreements

Acknowledging the ambitious and optimistic goal appears unattainable, Lawless said: “Just because you can’t see something now, doesn’t mean that it could not exist in the future. Remember when there were no smartphones to distract us from driving? I do.

“Improvements in roadway design advances in technology to assist drivers, improvements in equipment, improvements in emergency response and availability of medical treatment,” she continued. “All of those things have the potential to make zero deaths a reality in our lifetimes. And that’s why partnerships with organizations like TCA, academia, safety advocates, state and local governments, and others are so critical in our mission.”

Lawless said her agency is committed to collaborating with trucking industry leaders to create safer transportation. 

“I can promise you that the Truckload Carriers Association is committed to highway safety and, in fact, it’s one of our highest priorities,” Dave Williams, the TCA chairman, said after Lawless’ remarks. “We appreciate the partnership that we have with the FMCSA and look forward to finding better ways to make our highways safe in the most effective way.”

Rulemaking initiatives 

Lawless said that transportation “technology has the promise of saving lives, and we continue to look for ways to encourage the adoption of technology that can prevent crashes and reduce the impact from crashes that happen.”

This includes pushing the federal initiative to require automatic emergency braking on heavy-duty vehicles.

FMCSA, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, proposed the AEB initiative last year.   

Many large carriers, such as TCA member fleets, already have a full complement of automatic driver assistance system features, including collision mitigation and AEB, which limit drivers’ speeds or at least monitor speeding via telematics. However, the issue is more divisive for owner-operators and small fleets.

See also: Same-gender training in the trucking industry

FMCSA also proposed changes to its Safety Measurement System. Known as SMS, the methodology is used to measure carrier Compliance, Safety, and Accountability scores.

One significant difference is that the categories used to determine CSA scores would change, according to FMCSA rulemaking proposals. SMS currently uses seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, or BASICs. Though the proposal would still use seven BASICs, two changes are more significant than all the others. The Controlled Substances and Alcohol BASIC would be combined with the existing Unsafe Driving category, so all drug and alcohol violations discovered during roadside inspections would impact motor carriers’ Unsafe Driving BASIC.

Lawless encouraged carriers to review these proposals to see how they could impact operations. 

“Because we believe that technology has the promise of saving lives, we continue to look for ways to encourage the adoption of technology that prevent crashes or reduce the impact from crashes that happen—including beyond compliance initiatives—and other ways to encourage carriers and drivers to use technology that improves safety, but most importantly, makes sense from them.”

What FMCSA is doing to improve trucking

Lawless emphasized FMCSA’s dedication to addressing core issues impacting drivers and motor carriers. Three key areas stand out:

Safe Parking

“We know that creating more and better safe truck parking is fundamental to ensuring the truckers can get the rest they need and keep our supply chains moving safely,” Lawless said. 

Last year, the American Transportation Research Institute listed truck parking as the trucking industry’s second most significant issue in its annual Critical Issues in the Industry report, topped only by the economy. 

Lawless highlighted recent federal funding for truck parking projects funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Infrastructure for Rebuilding America program. 

See also: 2024 Trucking regulations roadmap

Driver compensation

Also part of the infrastructure law was a call for FMCSA to study driver compensation and how it relates to safety and driver retention. 

Noting that pay can affect how drivers operate and how long they continue their truck driving careers. “We know that the longer drivers stay in the industry, the safer they become,” Lawless noted. 

FMCSA commissioned a research study to assess the effects of various driver compensation methods, such as hourly pay and detention time payments, on safety and driver retention. The Transportation Research Board is conducting this study independently. 

Detention time

FMCSA also is studying driver detention time as part of the IIJA. According to agency research, detention time costs drivers $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion in lost wages annually, and the industry loses $3 billion to $6.5 billion in driving time each year.

Excessive detention times can significantly impact drivers' schedules, pushing them to drive longer to compensate for lost time. Lawless said FMCSA is actively exploring solutions to this problem and ensuring fair compensation for detention time.

About the Author

Josh Fisher | Editor-in-Chief

Editor-in-Chief Josh Fisher has been with FleetOwner since 2017, covering everything from modern fleet management to operational efficiency, artificial intelligence, autonomous trucking, regulations, and emerging transportation technology. He is based in Maryland. 

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