FMCSA Administrator John Hill's approach to trucking safety mirrors the way a police officer patrols a neighborhood beat: Focus on the trouble spots until they are cleared up.

“In 29 and one-half years of police work, I can tell you from my experience that in any neighborhood a limited population causes almost all the problems,” Hill told Fleet Owner during an interview at the Dept. of Transportation's headquarters in Washington DC, last month.

“The biggest challenge we face in terms of improving trucking safety is [finding] where we can achieve the biggest return on our efforts,” he said, following a press conference to unveil the agency's proposed electronic on-board recorder (EOBR) regulation for automatically capturing driver hours-of-service (HOS) information. “That's really going to come from focusing our energies on those carriers and drivers who don't comply with safety regulations.”

Hill also believes that voluntary adoption of safety technology by carriers will play a big role in allowing FMCSA to focus more heavily on unsafe companies and drivers. “There are a lot of companies out there that understand that good management practices and safety technology can have a big positive impact on the bottom line,” he explained.

“I'd like to see a lot more voluntary use of technology to address safety issues because I am convinced carriers can find cost savings by doing that. And that would allow us to step up enforcement on the problem carriers.”

A former Indiana state police officer, Hill joined FMCSA in 2003 as its Chief Safety Officer and Assistant Administrator. When Annette Sandberg resigned in early 2006, Hill was nominated by President Bush to replace her.

He remains a police officer at heart, however. Two stints as commander of Indiana's commercial vehicle enforcement division (1989-1994 and 2000-2003) convinced Hill that his “focus on the worst” philosophy works best.

One of the top priorities at FMCSA now is to amend the HOS supporting documents regulation. The agency will also have to deal with the upcoming decision by the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit as to whether the 2005 HOS rules are legal, which trucking experts expect to be released during the first quarter of the year.