Since becoming the second chief administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on August 1, 2003, Annette M. Sandberg has focused on increasing the attention paid to trucking safety and security. She recently spoke with Fleet Owner and outlined FMCSA's positions on these two critical areas.

FO: Has trucking safety improved over the last several years? Where does the focus on safety need to go?

Sandberg: We've seen a significant improvement in trucking safety over the last five to six years, especially in terms of the accident fatality rate per miles driven… Even though the number of fatalities went up slightly last year, the fatality rate went down because vehicle miles driven by large trucks were significantly higher.

Still, we need to do a lot of things. We need to get truck drivers to buckle up… we have to pursue technologies that can improve truck safety, such as lane monitoring and blind spot camera systems — devices we are testing as we speak. Maintaining a safe following distance between the truck and other vehicles is critical so we have to work on that.

Finally, there's the driver — perhaps the key component in the overall vehicle in terms of highway safety. We have to look at driver behavior and health issues. Are medical qualifications rigorous enough? Are new drivers getting the proper training they need? We need to look at all of those areas and how they impact the abilities of the driver behind the wheel.

FO: Do you think driver training needs to change? Do we need to move to a national CDL license and national training standards?

Sandberg: We don't have enough data to single out driver training as a major highway safety factor. We are examining results from our ongoing truck-crash causation study, and what we are seeing so far tells us the driver is a piece of the safety puzzle we need to look at.

FO: Is driver “health and wellness” an issue that the industry needs to address more?

Sandberg: Truck driver health is a focus for us. We've changed the blood pressure standard and we are looking at more ways to translate medical data we're getting into good standards. We're still not sure how our efforts will pan out — how basic health impacts fatigue, for example, or the ability to operate a large truck. But clearly, it's going to be an important issue.

FO: Do you think how car drivers operate around trucks impacts highway safety?

Sandberg: We need a more aggressive campaign to educate the public about the dynamics of large trucks so they behave appropriately around them. We've had a fairly aggressive outreach effort in terms of discussing the ‘No Zone’ around large trucks but we have to do more. The enforcement component is critical to this — if you ticket an inappropriate behavior, people get the message.

FO: Why is hours-of-service reform is being contested so bitterly?

Sandberg: There's a misunderstanding out there in the public and among a variety of interest groups about trucking. First, trucking is not one single industry — it is many different industries that are only similar in that they use a truck as a tool to conduct their business. The dilemma we face is that every segment of trucking uses that tool in a significantly different way. That's what the real issue is. People don't understand that one size doesn't fit all.

FO: There seems to be a lack of agreement among truckers on what poses the greatest security threat — terrorism or cargo theft. What do you think?

Sandberg: “Security” has become a catchall word that encompasses a lot of issues. But theft and terrorism are closely related, because if someone can easily steal a truck for the goods inside, a terrorist can do the same thing for other more deadly purposes Carriers need good safety and security plans that take a holistic approach — they have to address both terrorism and thievery. Because the more incidents of theft a carrier suffers, the more risk it adds to their operations across the board.