Hill: Supporting documents rule awaits thorough field training

Although the White House gave its approval more than a month ago, a new rule governing supporting documents that motor carriers must use to verify drivers’ logs won’t be issued until early November, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator John Hill said Friday, Oct. 20.

“I am holding it because I want to be sure our field staff is fully trained so it will be applied accurately and uniformly,” Hill said in comments to journalists in Washington, D.C.

The White House Office of Management and Budget completed its review of the final rule on Sept. 14. A delay of more than a month-and-a-half is unusual; federal regulations typically are issued and published in the Federal Register within a few days of OMB approval.

Several other regulatory proposals remain under OMB review, including a proposal related to electronic onboard recorders for hours-of-service compliance. Others relate to intermodal equipment, medical certification as part of the commercial driver’s license, new entrant safety and brokers of household goods.

In a speech to transportation journalists at the National Press Club, Hill said that motor carriers have become safer but that “we’re seeing a plateauing” of fatalities and other key metrics involving large trucks. Given the anticipated growth in transportation along with greater congestion and other factors, fatalities likely will rise “unless we see a reinvigorating of safety initiatives.”

One of the key safety efforts in the coming years stems from FMCSA’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010. Though CSA 2010, the agency wants to achieve more effective oversight of commercial motor vehicle safety through contact with more carriers and drivers; improved data to better identify high-risk carrier and drivers; and a wider range of interventions to correct high-risk behavior early. This would allow FMCSA and states to look at 80,000 to 100,000 carriers a year rather than the 10,000 to 20,000 they currently review, Hill said. FMCSA has scheduled a Nov. 16 listening session on the CSA 2010 Initiative.

Another big push will be noncommercial vehicle enforcement. In the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, the noncommercial vehicle was responsible for 57 percent of the causal events studied in car-truck crashes, Hill noted. Last year’s highway bill gave FMCSA authority to make grants to states for enforcement against noncommercial vehicles as a way of promoting commercial motor vehicle safety. “As we fully implement the program, this is a great opportunity,” Hill said.

Hill also is a big fan of safety technology, and he noted three in particular: electronic stability control, forward collision warning and lane departure warning. Asked whether FMCSA might consider requiring these systems by regulation, Hill replied, “At this point, we’re looking at it as voluntary, but the jury is still out on a future rulemaking.” He suggested that FMCSA might have ways to encourage adoption of the technology, adding, “but let’s not get too far down the road.”

On other issues, Hill downplayed expectations that the Department of Transportation would sponsor a pilot project to expand access to the United States by a limited number of Mexican carriers as a transition to full operations contemplated by the North American Free Trade Agreement. Hill said no final decision had been made on conducting a pilot, but he also noted that the out-of-service rate of Mexican carriers within the commercial zone currently is as good or better than that of U.S. carriers operating there. Moreover, the real issue is the strength of enforcement. “If you have strong enforcement, it will drive safety.”