Has Anne Ferro lost her mind, or just her credibility? What’s next for trucking?

By Kevin Jones on
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, in happier times, visits with an OOIDA member at the association's 40th anniversary "Heart of America Trucking Show" last fall. OOIDA is now calling for Ferro to step down.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, in happier times, visits with an OOIDA member at the association’s 40th anniversary “Heart of America Trucking Show” last fall. OOIDA is now calling for Ferro to step down.

Last week’s Senate Appropriations Committee bipartisan vote to suspend restart provisions in the hours-of-service rule, pending further study, is interesting for a couple of reasons: How might the re-do impact the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ambitious regulatory agenda going forward – that’s the big picture question – and what will the suspension mean, practically, for drivers and carriers?

In order of timeliness, let’s talk about what happens next legislatively.

First, drivers or trucking companies for which the consecutive 1-5 a.m. restarts have been painful shouldn’t pop the cork on the champagne just yet.

The amendment is part of an annual budget bill for the DOT, this for fiscal year 2015. The full Senate now must approve the bill, likely part of a budget package Appropriations Chairman Barbara Mikulski hopes to have ready by mid-summer. The House is taking up its version this week, with an amendment free-for-all likely to ensue.

Short answer: Continuing Resolutions – budget extensions to pay the bills based on the 2014 levels – are a very real possibility.

And that means the hours-of-service amendment will be on the sideline for a while.

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The good news, for those in favor of the restart rollback, is “the heavy lifting has been done,” as a political insider told me last week.

Oct. 1 is the outside chance for the earliest effective date, but smart money is on adoption in a lame-duck session after the November election, or possibly as late as approval by the new Congress in January or beyond. And the White House must sign off on it.

Now the fun question: What’s to become of Administrator Anne Ferro? The American Trucking Associations say they couldn’t work with her on the restart problems, and so had no choice but to wield their substantial influence on Capitol Hill.

But then, likely after the DOT political staff had counted committee votes, Ferro penned and posted a DOT Fast Lane blog featuring truck crash victims, and proclaimed the agency is protecting families from an industry that wants to undo “life-saving” rules.

“And as a wife and mother of two, I am committed to preventing tragedies like those that have been shared with me,” Ferro writes.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was quick to respond, calling on Ferro to resign, citing “a clear bias against truckers and the trucking industry.”

This comes just eight months or so after Ferro was a featured speaker at the association’s 40th anniversary shindig – an event at which she stood in a cold rain chatting with driver after driver.

And Dave Osiecki, executive vice president of national advocacy for the American Trucking Associations, called her blog post “remarkable” when I spoke with him. He also says he submitted a comment to summarize the ATA case – a comment that, pending DOT review, still hadn’t been published a week later.

The agency is “miscommunicating” and “misrepresenting” the fatigue data, Osiecki contends, “and they know it.”

“It’s not enough to proclaim that the rules will promote safety and promote health,” he says. “There has to be some evidence.”

Essentially, FMCSA is not addressing the primary causes of truck crashes, and the crash rate is going up under the current administration.

“They’ve got their eye on the wrong ball,” Osiecki says. “They’re not looking at speed-related concerns; they’re not looking at the other motorists or aggressive driving. The numbers on that sort of enforcement are down about 48 percent under Ferro.”

Of course, as Ferro said in a House hearing in March, she wasn’t hired to help the trucking industry. Still, it’s provocative – and unbecoming — for Ferro to use the tragedies of others for her political purposes but, well, that’s politics.

Is she angling for a job with the highway safety groups who highlight personal horrors in their lobbying efforts, or was she just borrowing from their playbook – opting for a last-ditch emotional appeal to Congress?

Doesn’t matter, although to imply that bureaucrats care more than carriers about the risks truck drivers face every day is the real insult. The essential question is whether she can do the job fairly and effectively.

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But these suggestions of a possible crack in FMCSA’s regulatory dam came before the truck accident that injured comedian Tracy Morgan last weekend.

The CNN coverage I saw Monday breathlessly introduced the story by highlighting a truck driver who’d been awake for 24 hours and “yet” a Senate committee had just voted to ease restrictions aimed at fatigued driving.

Such a high-profile event could provide sufficient cover for continued intransigence from FMCSA.

Alas, it’s another distraction and not a solution. Trucking is acutely aware that 10 distractions a day is 10 too many, and FMCSA needs to quit playing politics.

(As a postscript, I’d like to say a little something about the safety groups that seem to have garnered disproportionate influence with FMCSA.

Indeed, some of us in trucking are quick to dismiss anything coming from PATT and CRASH and the like – but they are folks that can be worked with, notes Lane Kidd of the Trucking Alliance.

The alliance, supported by several large carriers, signed on with the safety groups in support of a new, e-log study of the restart – but they opposed the suspension. And Kidd admits he’s taken some heat for it.

“For the most part, I’ve found that they [the highway safety organizations] don’t dislike trucks but they hate unsafe trucks,” Kidd says. “They’re just trying to make sure bad companies and drivers aren’t on the road anymore. It only takes one.”)

 

 

Kevin Jones

Kevin Jones is Senior Editor, Trucking Media, and writes from his home in Little Rock, Ark. His Fleet Street blog features whatever strikes his fancy and has at least a little connection to trucks, or drivers, or highways. Or David Allan Coe. (Google "the perfect country and western song" if you're not nearly as old as Kevin is.) You can also keep up with Kevin by following his Twitter feed (@KevinJonesCCJ) or just drop him a line: kevin.jones@randallreilly.com.

8 comments
Raveman
Raveman

The 14 hour rule should also be dumped and replaced with a split sleeper ruling. Example, just night before last, what I ate for dinner gave me incredible heartburn that kept me up most of the night. Next day, while still within my hours I became quite sleepy. So do I keep running because of the 14 hour rule? Not me, pulled into a rest area and slept for 5 hours. Mind you I am on my way home. When I awoke, now I am wide awake, listening to traffic rolling by, and in need of a shower due to loading in a mudhole. I also lost some time on my clock by a shipper not being ready. Thus my 14 hour clock is gone, but I'm ready to go. In this event, I opted for safety and I get screwed by the clock. In most instances I have no problem with the 10 hour break, but it is too rigid in certain instances.There should be and perhaps a somewhat limited way to split this at least occasionally, but the 14 hour rule makes this impossible.

cjmarley
cjmarley

I left a a comment on her blog page as well and of course it never got approved. Go figure.

Interested
Interested

Drivers who break the law are just that.  I don't think changing the rules helps, just gives them more of a challenge.

truckerBill
truckerBill

I'm just surprised that OOIDA supported legislation that would speed up the ELD mandate. I thought they were 100% against ELD's. It's funny how politics works. Poli - (Many) tics - (blood suckers) Many Bloodsuckers. I met Mrs. Ferro a few years ago at the Louisville truck show she appeared to have a real interest in the truckers plight but who knows I'm confused especially since OOIDA is for electronic logs now. I guess I'll look for someone else to fight for my rights. I wonder if they changed their minds about speed limiters too.

Kerry Simmons
Kerry Simmons

You might try to control all of the people all of the time, but it only takes that one guy that either doesn't care or makes a mistake to have an accident.  

Maybe if we committed some time to training up drivers so they were responsible and capable we could prevent some of the tragic mistakes and accidents.  It makes more sense to work on the ones that are going to be on the road than to try and limit and control the mass majority with rules that are not actually proven to improve safety.  They didn't seem to stop the Tracy Morgan accident, Anne!

I believe in safety and doing what it takes for safety.  But a huge majority of the drivers are getting to retirement age, focus on the ones that could change the future and do it with excellent training programs.  I get sick of the power people stomping their feet and yelling, " Because I say so!"  

JC
JC

I agree, the two periods from 1AM to 5AM should be stricken and the 34 hr. restart stand alone, ELD's, will have a heavy impact on HOS violations, thus reaching everyone's goal of a safer road environment. The need to think outside the box is needed. Most ELD's have GPS, cameras, pre- & post vehicle inspections, maintenance records, safe routes. There is an old saying in the military, for every action there can be an over reaction, I think that is the case here. HOS is not an issue, truck operations personnel, drivers wanting to make an extra buck are. ELD's alone will monitor what, when, where, and why. Drivers and operations will be more diligent.

Safety Conscious
Safety Conscious

Reputable companies go to great lengths and expense to promote safety and comply with the regulations that govern the industry.  I understand there will be scientist that will come forward and say the two periods between 1 am  and 5 am are scientifically supported.  That said, there is absolutely no science to support the 168 hour rule.  This rule does not make sense to anyone and it should be thrown out, period.  Everyone has heard the old adage "garbage in - garbage out", well, they put Anne Ferro in that office so you can only expect to get garbage out of that office.... 

Mr Truck
Mr Truck

Kevin, of course she's auditioning for a safety advocacy gig after her career as a bureaucrat is over. It's not even a revolving door in DC anymore between transitioning from the public sector to the private sector. There is no door, just ask Ray LaHood.