A closer look: Feds want to increase safety enforcement When it comes to safety regulations, the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety (OMCHS) has not been effective in making sure fleets obey the law. At least that's what the Dept. of Transportation thinks.

In a recent report to Congress, DOT expressed concern over what it describes as an enforcement policy that stresses cooperation, trust, and voluntary compliance as opposed to strict oversight, fines, and respect for regulations. In other words, being nice doesn't work.

Even the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) agrees. In responding to a draft of the report, the agency noted that "the pendulum has swung too far towards educational outreach and now must move towards stronger enforcement, particularly for repeat offenders."

To bolster its argument, the DOT report cited statistics showing that the fatality rate for large truck crashes has remained flat since 1995, while the number of fatalities involved in those crashes continues to increase. In 1997, the latest year for which data was available, DOT noted that 5,355 deaths resulted from large truck crashes.

The report also notes that the number of OMCHS compliance reviews declined by 30% since 1995 - even though the number of motor carriers increased by 36%. "Nearly 250 high-risk carriers recommended for a compliance review in March 1998 did not receive one," the report stated.

And the 1,870 carriers that received less than satisfactory ratings in '95 were involved in more than 2,500 crashes (resulting in 132 fatalities and 2,288 injuries) between October 1994 and September 1998.

Fines levied for safety violations had little effect, according to the report. The average settlement in 1998 was $1,600, down from $3,700 in 1995. "It is apparent that many motor carriers who are fined see the penalties imposed as little more than a 'cost of doing business.' "

The five-month government study was performed in response to a request from John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Frank Wolf (R-Va.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Transportation.

Both lawmakers have been pushing for changes at OMCHS, including placing it under control of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration or creating a separate motor carrier safety administration within DOT.

The creation of a separate safety office that will focus exclusively on truck safety is gaining currency on Capitol Hill. It's also the choice endorsed by DOT if the current OMCHS doesn't do a better job of enforcement, including lowering truck fatalities within one year.

The trucking industry can expect the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety to step up enforcement as it tries to lower fatalities and crashes - and save its own life in the process. Whether this happens quickly enough to persuade lawmakers not to establish a separate agency remains to be seen.

XTRA Lease has announced the launch of its new Web site (www.xtralease.com), and is encouraging visitors to the site by donating $1 in that visitor's name to the Trucker Buddy organization. The program will run for six months, with a goal of 10,000 registrations. The Web site includes trailer spec sheets, branch locations, leasing programs, and the company's range of support services.

Transit Group has purchased Kat Inc., Chesterton, Ind., a truckload carrier offering transportation services for both temperature-sensitive and dry commodities. The company operates a fleet of 133 power units and 208 trailers.

Ruan is offering a "virtual" tactical methods team to help fleets resolve operational problems quickly to keep the supply chain moving. Recently introduced by Ruan's Systems Improvement Group, Triage uses players with operational expertise in specific distributionsegments to evaluate a customer's current logistics system and look for ways to improve productivity. An improvement plan is designed, along with a system of measurement to ensure the goals are achieved.

U.S. Trucking, Charleston, S.C., has purchased Mid-Cal Express, Grand Terrace, Calif., a longhaul transporter of fresh produce. The acquisition adds 60 tractors and 136 refrigerated trailers to the company's existing truckload fleet, operating under its subsidiary, Gulf Northern Transport.

A federal appeals court has ruled that new emissions standards governing smog and particulates issued last fall by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are unconstitutional. The court, in a case brought by the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) and other groups, ruled that EPA had usurped congressional power to set the law and further that they had failed to demonstrate how much pollution was too much.

The ruling leaves up in the air the emissions targets that were scheduled to kick in later this year for next year's engine class. Also affected are the next round of emissions targets that were part of the consent agreement signed in November between EPA and the heavy-duty engine builders.

For ozone specifically, the ruling precludes EPA from concurrent implementation of a more stringent standard (0.085 ppm) while the existing standard (0.12 ppm) has not been met.

The ruling further threw out EPA's use of the measure of particulate matter smaller than 10 microns in diameter as a surrogate measure for all particles ranging from 2.5 to 10 micrometers.

EPA has already stated its intent to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

In a related development, EPA has signaled its intent to come out with rules regulating the quality of diesel fuel. Last month, the agency came out with a list of questions to help in gathering information in advance of setting standards.

Diesel engines are a major source of nitrogen oxides and particulates, both of which set off environmental alarm bells. The agency believes that by improving fuel quality it will set the stage for a new generation of diesel-emissions technologies. An ultralow-sulfur diesel is high on its wish list.

Deborah McGuffie has joined FLEET OWNER as associate editor. A trucking journalist for over 10 years, she previously served as features editor of Truck Fleet Management magazine. In her new position, McGuffie will be responsible for our special buyers' directories and spec sections, as well as other editorial duties.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has identified 12,500 workplaces with the highest occupational injury and illness rates and is urging employers to take action to remove hazards.

Jobs that require heavy lifting are at the top of the list, with the largest number of citations going to nursing homes, trucking companies, and warehouses. For every 100 full-time workers, these employers had 8 or more injuries or illnesses that resulted in lost workdays. The national average is 3.3.

"These employers must do better," Secretary of Labor Alexis M. Herman said. "They must do everything possible to reduce the hazards in their workplaces. Workers should not have to risk serious injury or illness or their lives."

Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater is backing an infrared technology imaging device that could improve highway safety by helping to inspect commercial trucks for faulty equipment. A pilot program, which involves Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee, is designed to detect faulty brakes, as well as exhaust leaks, over-inflated tires, hot wheel-bearings, and other mechanical problems. According to FHWA's Office of Safety and Motor Carriers, the most frequently cited inspection violation is faulty brakes.

The imaging allows inspectors to focus on vehicles with faulty brakes, allowing others to avoid time-consuming random roadside inspections of braking systems. The screening takes place at highway speeds, so trucks don't have to slow down unless a problem is detected.

* Edward B. Caudill, Nicholas P. Panza, and James G. Cardillo have been appointed vice presidents of PACCAR, which includes Kenworth Truck Co., Peterbilt Motors, and DAF Trucks N.V.

* Baldwin Filters' executive vp and COO Bill McKenzie was elected chairman of the Filter Manufacturers Council.

* James F. Watson announced his retirement as president of Thermo King Corp.

* Dean Wartenbee, president of Northern Truck Equipment Corp., was elected the 35th president of the National Truck Equipment Assn.

* Kenworth Truck Co. promoted Ted Fick to director of sales strategy and Gary L. Moore to director of specialty markets, both newly created positions. Bill Kozek was named the new national dealer development manager.

* Mack Trucks has named James S. Goodell general manager of the company's Macungie, Pa., assembly operations.

* Dan Owings was promoted by Roadnet Technologies to director of business development.

* Jon N. Fogelberg was named executive vp of NationaLease Truck Leasing Systems and NationaLease Purchasing Corp.

* Comdata has appointed Frank Adelman senior vp-transportation services division.

* Sloan Transportation Products appointed Darrel Rizley director of sales-heavy duty aftermarket.

* Jost International appointed Ted Vick to the position of vp-sales and marketing.

* Tom Meyers has moved to the position of vp-Central Region at Rollins Leasing. Harold L. Rosenfelder became director-dedicated operations at Rollins Logistics.

n Con-Way Southern Express named James Philip Worthington vp-operations and promoted John W. Guice to vp-sales.

* Charles E. Goodremote was promoted to the position of general manager for the Climate Systems division of Modine Manufacturing.

* USF Logistics appointed Frank Reuwer senior vp-operations.

Owner-operators and other independent contractors could be turned into employees for federal tax purposes if a new bill introduced by Rep. Gerald Kleczka (D-Wis.) and Rep. Amo Houghton (R-N.Y.) becomes law. Under H.R. 1525, a business would have to treat all workers as employees unless it could prove that they were not controlled or directed at all by the business; they offered their services widely; and they faced a risk of loss and opportunity for profit.

The bill has heavy union support and is co-sponsored by a majority of House Ways and Means Committee members. H.R. 1525 faces stiff opposition from businesses that rely on independent contractors. It may still pass, however, because it raises revenue, making up for that lost from tax reductions sought by the same business groups.

The federal government is calling for new fees for carriers that choose to self-insure their bodily-injury and property-damage claims. The proposal does not apply to carriers that self-insure for cargo damage only, since the required coverage is so small.

The proposal would require each carrier to be able to pay twice the amount of its annual self-insured claims, after it had paid all expenses. Unfunded letters of credit would no longer be accepted.

Instead, carriers would have to include a mandatory drawdown provision that would kick in if a carrier closed its doors. The feds are also proposing an annual monitoring fee of $2,600 for self-insured fleets.

Spurred into action by the CDL scandal in Illinois, the Federal Highway Administration is floating a plan on Capitol Hill to clean up licensing fraud and improve CDL testing.

Springfield, Mo.-based Prime Inc. has added a trailer emblazoned with the "No Zone" safety message to its fleet. The national safety-awareness campaign seeks to educate motorists about truck blind spots. Prime will haul freight in the trailer and display it at public events.

Roadway Express has launched two "simple and affordable" services for regular LTL shipments. "Guaranteed A.M. Delivery" promises shipments will arrive no later than 10:30 a.m. the day due. "Guaranteed Day Delivery" ensures shipments picked up by 6 p.m. will be delivered by the end of the consignee's business day.

A locator feature for finding used trucks has been added to Peterbilt's Web site (www.peterbilt.com). The locator lists pre-owned Red Oval trucks available for sale at participating Peterbilt dealers.