Preventable or not: Not the best angle

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Federal Highway Administration proposed various changes in commercial vehicle size and weight regulations to implement provisions adopted by Congress last year in the major highway and energy acts and in the transportation appropriations bill. Among the provisions is authority to increase federal weight limits by up to 400 pounds to account for idle reduction systems or auxiliary power units. Comments on the proposal are due June 30. For a copy of the proposal, visit this site and search Docket No. 24134.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will be conducting two public listening sessions this summer regarding the agency’s efforts to review medical standards and establish a National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. Sessions are scheduled for June 29 at the Hilton San Diego Airport/Harbor Island in San Diego and July 26 at The Renaissance Grand in St. Louis. More information is available at this site.

Volvo Trucks North America received an exemption from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration so 11 Swedish engineers and technicians can test-drive Volvo trucks in the United States without commercial driver’s licenses. All the individuals hold valid Swedish CDLs and have been trained to drive commercial motor vehicles there.

Pennsylvania State Police last month added 12 new motor carrier enforcement officers. The new officers received their certification following an eight-week training program at the state police’s training center in Greensburg.

Early on a muggy summer morning, trucker John Doe was about to deliver a flatbed load of lumber to a sleepy-looking construction crew at Country Meadows, a ritzy housing development nestled in a remote, wooded area southwest of Nashville, Tenn. “These houses are more than an hour away from downtown,” Doe muttered to himself, “and I still can’t afford to live here! Who’s buying these houses – them boys from Rascal Flatts?”

As Doe pulled up to the construction site, he immediately realized he had a problem: He would be required to travel up a ramp, leading to a makeshift dock, before he could be unloaded. Concerned about bottoming out, Doe fortified his courage with the last of his Starbucks Mocha Grande and asked the crew’s supervisor, Bob “The Boss” Schwartzcough, to eyeball clearances as the big rig proceeded slowly onto the dock.

“Lookin’ good there, good buddy,” Schwartzcough yelled, dutifully bending over to monitor Doe’s progress while energetically waving his right arm to hasten Doe’s approach. Happily, Doe managed to reach his goal without incident, was relieved of his load, and then prepared to back down the fearsome ramp. Again, Schwartzcough was asked to keep watch.

This time, however, Doe’s luck was destined to change. “You’ve got it, no problem,” Schwartzcough urged, again waving for Doe to proceed, which he did – until everyone within shouting distance heard a sickening “SQROUNCH!” from underneath Doe’s rig. The fuel tank had scrubbed against the dock’s angled cross-over line and ripped open, spilling diesel all over the place!

Doe contested the preventable-accident warning letter from his safety director, who scolded his driver for not personally checking the clearance beneath his rig. The case was turned over to the National Safety Council’s accident review board for a final decision. NSC quickly ruled in Doe’s favor, since he had entered the dock with assistance without incident, and that he had asked for similar help while exiting.

FMCSA plans changes in SafeStat algorithm
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing improvements to the algorithm used in its Motor Carrier Safety Status Measurement System, known more commonly as SafeStat. The agency uses the system to analyze current and historical safety performance and compliance information to rank the relative safety fitness of commercial motor carriers. FMCSA proposes four basic changes:

* A new traffic violations indicator, or TVI. The TVI would replace the moving violations indicator (MVI) in the driver safety evaluation area (SEA) value calculation. According to FMCSA, benefits of the change include identifying more carriers with higher crash risk, improving geographical coverage, using better data and covering more carriers;
* A shortening of the data exposure time period from 30 months to 24 months. The change increases emphasis on more recent events and aligns the SafeStat timeframe with other FMCSA systems and reports that use two years of safety event data;
* Simplification of the accident SEA value calculation to be equal to the accident involvement indicator. The change establishes one standard of measuring crash rate, avoiding potentially conflicting results of multiple standards; and
* Application of more vehicle out-of-service violation data for the vehicle inspection indicator (VII). FMCSA plans to include vehicle OOS violations that an enforcement officer may discover while conducting a Level 3, or driver-only, inspection.

Although the proposed changes are exempt from the requirement for rulemaking, FMCSA is offering interested parties the chance to review them and offer comments by July 3. For a copy of the proposed changes and a link to provide comments, visit this site.

DOT IG: Harsher penalties for repeat violators
U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General concluded that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has made progress in its oversight of carrier safety but needs to be harsher on carriers with repeat safety violations. In an earlier meeting with OIG, FMCSA agreed to make sure repeat violators don’t escape maximum fines, but said it would maintain discretion on which violations it documented.

Among other recommendations was the expeditious completion of new rules governing drivers’ medical certificates. The audit issued in late April covers FMCSA’s implementation of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999.

For a copy of the audit report, visit this site.

FMCSA offers grants for CDL upgrades
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last month announced the availability of grant funding to help states improve the implementation of their commercial driver’s license programs. Funds can be used for computer hardware and software, publications, testing, personnel, training and quality control. Grants will go to the primary licensing agency responsible for the development, implementation and maintenance of the CDL program in the state.

Last year’s transportation legislation authorized up to $25 million a year for four years to improve CDL administration. A small portion of those funds – $200,000 – will be used for a task force to study and address current impediments and foreseeable challenges to the CDL program’s effectiveness, and to study and address measures to realize the full safety potential of the CDL program.

FMCSA’s priorities for awarding funds are improving compliance with federal CDL legislation; updating CDL knowledge and skills tests; improving the detection and prevention of fraudulent activities; improving the accuracy, speed and completeness of driver history information exchanged among the various components of the system; improving the accuracy and timely transfer of conviction information; and increasing CDL outreach and training on the importance of proper adjudication and sanctioning to the judicial community.