The reasoning behind the regulations

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A lot of folks in the trucking business are upset with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over any number of things – hours of service (HOS) reform, electronic on board recorders (EOBRs), you name it – and frankly there’s ample right for such frustration.

Take the issue of crash accountability under the agency’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program. Even if the truck is not at fault in a truck-car collision – which, according to FMCSA’s own data, is the case in over 72% of such crashes – the blame still gets squarely pegged on the trucker. That’s but one of many unfair FMCSA policy directives that needs to be addressed.

Yet aside from industry likes and dislikes concerning FMCSA and its regulatory agenda – and truth be told there’s a lot to like, especially where CSA is concerned – there’s a central question to be asked: why does FMCSA do what it does? In other words, what’s the philosophy driving its regulatory game plan here?

Anne Ferro, FMCSA’s administrator, discussed some of those “philosophical imperatives” during a speech at the 2012 Mid America Trucking Show – including the controversial crash accountability issue, which you can watch below.

I also got a brief chance to sit down with her at the show to talk about the agency’s “philosophical” approach and she boiled it down into simple terms for me. First, from her perspective, whatever FMCSA can do to improve highway safety from a commercial trucking perspective, it will do.

But more importantly is the second part of this approach: improving safety leads directly to improvements in profitability for the trucking industry.

[She discussed this train of thought in her speech when she talked about why CSA works.]

That’s why her agency is now looking into the issues of detention time and driver compensation to discern how those two issues affect safety, and vice versa as well.

“These are serious issues because obviously delays impact their operating clock and their ability to make money.” Ferro told me. “Drivers work incredibly hard but in some cases we’ve found that the compensation rates in place today equal those of 1980.”

Those are but some of the reasons why FMCSA continues to work so hard towards finishing an EOBR rule, because part of thinking here is that it will allow carriers and drivers alike to demonstrate with cold hard facts how detention affects pay and available drive time.

Yet probably the clearest example of how FMCSA believes safety and profitability should be linked revolves around the CSA program because, for the first time, shippers and brokers alike are made accountable for their freight hauling decisions. If they elect to use carriers with unsafe operating records – records that are easily available to them via the CSA web portal – they, too, will share in the safety consequences.

“To me, safety is a supply chain issue, not exclusively a carrier issue,” Ferro told me. “That’s why we are linking everyone together under programs like CSA.”

Ferro is also well aware that CSA is a two-way street as well, meaning that FMCSA needs to work more closely with state highway enforcement agencies to ensure its rules are enforced uniformly and consistently – two things many drivers and managers tell me is lacking in some cases.

“CSA certainly shines a spotlight on us as well,” she told me. “That’s why we’re working with CVSA [Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance] to make sure we have uniformity and consistency at the state level.”

Ferro also noted FMCSA is more than willing to change things into order to improve its safety focus. For example, the agency recently announced it would eliminate the stand-alone cargo securement BASIC within CSA by rolling it into the vehicle maintenance metric, in order to make way for a new “hazmat” BASIC.

“This is part of our effort to determine what combinations of BASICs shines the brightest light on the highest risk carriers,” she explained to me. The stand-alone cargo metric “wasn’t quite getting at the highest risk carriers, whereas we realized we need to get a closer look at hazmat simply because of the significantly more negative outcomes if a crash involving hazmat cargo occurs.”

Those are just some of the examples of the reasoning going on within FMCSA’s regulatory halls. And whether you agree with said reasoning or not, it’s insightful nonetheless to know why the agency is engaging in the many past and present rulemaking efforts being placed on trucking’s table. 

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