Boca Raton, FL. Anne S. Ferro, Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), provided an update today on what fleets can expect in the months ahead in the way of new regulations and changes to existing rules. She spoke to a standing-room-only crowd at the opening general session of “The Power to Ten,” the 10th annual PeopleNet User Conference here in Boca Raton, FL. 

“Going forward, we want to increasingly focus our attention on those companies who need it,” Ferro said. “We want to get bad actors off the road.”

To accomplish that goal, Ferro noted that the agency is using the data it is collecting via CSA and other means to “make sure we are focusing our attention in the right direction.” Persistent violators can expect the agency to use their imminent hazard authority and all other available tools to bring unsafe operations into compliance or to shut them down, she promised.

Ferro also pledged to continue working to be “fair” by making vehicle inspections more uniform across the country. “One third of inspections are clean, by the way,” she said.

Fleets have been watching and waiting for word about a number of possible revisions to existing regulations as well as some new rulemaking initiatives, and Ferro provided updates on some of the most significant pending actions, including electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs), Safety Fitness Determination, crash accountability and hours of service (HOS).

“The Safety Fitness Determination rule is due next year,” she said. However, later this month, fleets can expect to see what changes FMCSA intends to make as a result of the recent four-month comment period. 

Crash accountability is another hot button for the trucking industry. “We all know that not all crashes [involving commercial vehicles] are the fault of the commercial driver,” Ferro said, “but we also know that crash history and unsafe driving are predictive of future [accidents].

“It will take about a year before we publish more modifications,” she added, but made it clear that changes were coming. “CSA is an enforcement platform,” she noted. “It will continue to evolve. It is a dynamic program for a dynamic industry.”

When it comes to EOBRs, Ferro said that publication of the much-anticipated new proposed rule is on target for Q1 of 2013. “The OOIDA lawsuit sent us back to the drawing board on driver harassment,” she said. We have also been working to identify what the right technical specifications should be and looking at the supporting documents requirements, as well.  The entire rulemaking process will take about two years, but “it is definitely on the way.”

Other measured Ferro expects to go forward include the creation of a “drug and alcohol clearing house” to enable fleets to know if a driver applicant has previously tested positive or refused to be tested for drug and alcohol use.

Changes to the driver hours of service regulations are also coming, she noted. “The deadline is July 2014,” she said. “ I fully expect it to go forward.”

The new HOS limits will focus specifically on the cumulative fatigue problem. “Drivers need their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel and their mind in the game,” Ferro said. When a member of the audience asked what made this new version of HOS rules better than all the others, Ferro replied that, “Our understanding of fatigue has evolved over time. The science has improved.”

Over the longer term, FMCSA also has other issues on its regulatory radar screen, she noted. “We are examining detention time, which also impacts the ability of the driver to operate safely by making it harder to [legally and safely] get to the next stop,” Ferro said.

So-called “reincarnated” companies have also captured the attention of FMCSA and Congress, which has included a number of safety-related provisions in its MAP-21 Surface Transportation Authorization bill.  It is still too easy for companies that are put out of business for safety violations to start over again under a new name and DOT license, Ferro observed.  

MAP-21 also calls for the FMCSA to establish standards for an Employer Notification System that would alert companies when an existing employee has been cited for a civil or criminal action, including for moving traffic violations. Some states already have such systems in place, provided on a subscription basis, and Ferro encouraged fleets to make use of them.

“The crux of the matter is this,” she concluded, “We do have a very powerful safety mission. [We want to support safe carriers, eliminate unsafe performers and help to create a level competitive playing field.]”