Highway bill presents tough challenges for FMCSA

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Updated Nov 23, 2015
Bill Quade, associate administrator for enforcement and program delivery, FMCSA, spoke at the CCJ Fall Symposium, Nov. 18.Bill Quade, associate administrator for enforcement and program delivery, FMCSA, spoke at the CCJ Fall Symposium, Nov. 18.

Bill Quade is in charge of implementing new programs and regulations for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. From his vantage point, the highway bill now moving through Congress will test the agency’s limited resources.

Quade, the associate administrator for enforcement and program delivery at FMCSA, gave a presentation and answered questions from attendees at the CCJ Fall Symposium in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Nov. 18.

He began by noting the progress made towards the agency’s safety goals. In 2013, 4,000 people died in commercial motor vehicle crashes. A decade ago, fatalities numbered more than 5,000.

“I firmly believe in the goal and the mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to save lives and reduce injuries and crashes in commercial motor vehicles,” he stated. “I firmly believe that steps we are taking are steps towards that progress.”

Turning to the highway bill, Quade questioned why Compliance, Safety, Accountability scores will be removed from public view until regulators rework the program. If CSA scores are not public, carriers will have to field a lot of information requests from shippers and insurance brokers. The FMCSA had 72 million hits on its websites last year, he said, and predicted that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office may be overwhelmed.

At any rate, the agency will continue to use CSA scores to identify carriers for interventions as it makes new proposals and changes to the program. One change underway now is the “utilization factor” and segmenting of the Hazmat BASIC. The agency is going to give carriers a preview of what these changes will do to their CSA scores “in a couple of weeks,” he said.

The highway bill also requires FMCSA to implement a new program to assign crash preventability. The idea is to exclude crashes deemed as non-preventable from carriers’ CSA scores, such as when a vehicle rear-ends a commercial vehicle.

Quade believes the agency will have a “difficult time” implementing this because of limited resources. FMCSA will have to review approximately 120,000 commercial vehicle crashes per year, and “we are not going to do in-depth accident reconstructions because that is economically prohibitive.”

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He warned of unintended consequences for the government assigning crash preventability. The conclusions “may get used out of context,” he said, like possibly being used as evidence in civil lawsuits brought against carriers.

The House of Representatives’ version of the highway bill flat lines FMCSA’s budget for the next six years. In real terms this represents an 11 percent decrease in funding, he said.

“Some of you may think that’s a good thing, and that’s okay, but it does make it difficult to do new programs,” he said. Despite limited resources, he estimates that FMCSA will be able to have a crash preventability program running in six months after the bill passes.

Beyond Compliance is a program included in the Senate version of the highway bill, and is required to be implemented before CSA scores go public again. The intent is for carriers to be given credit for doing things above compliance such as installing collision avoidance technologies.

The program is a good idea, Quade said, but “we are not best people to run it” due to limited resources to verify that fleets are actually doing what they claim.

“We have 400 investigators for 500,000 trucking companies. We do not have enough people to get to the worst companies, much less divert people to companies that are doing extra things,” he said.

Another difficult-to-implement program in the highway bill is CDL training for drivers under the age of 21. “I have mixed feelings about this. I am more comfortable doing a pilot before implementing nationally,” he said. “The stats say that inexperienced drivers are much, much less safe.”

Quade then gave an update on upcoming rules from the FMCSA:

  • E-log and driver coercion rules have cleared the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Quade predicted they will be published as final rules between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Soon after, the agency plans to hold webinars to “make sure everybody understands what is and what is not required, and when,” he said.
  • The Safety Fitness Determination proposed rule will be reviewed by OMB “soon,” he said, and published before Christmas. The proposal uses on-road performance data to rate companies. The rule will allow the agency to keep ratings current on more carriers. Currently, safety ratings are given to carriers after on-site compliance reviews. FMCSA is able to visit 15,000 carriers a year, but there are about 500,000 registered carriers, he said. Once published, FMCSA plans to do a webinar to explain the differences between the current Safety Measurement System and the new rule.
  • A proposed rule for entry level driver training will be available in the “next month or two” for comments, he said.
  • A CDL Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse Final Rule will be published in early 2016. The rule would create a database of drivers who have failed or refused to take a drug or alcohol test. Carriers would then be required to query the database when making hires and upload drug testing information. Quade said the database will “take some time” to implement once the rule is published.
  • A rule to mandate the use of speed limiters on heavy trucks is currently being reviewed by the OMB.
  • A proposed rule, perhaps available next year, will streamline the transition of military members to CDL holders in civilian life. “We’re going to get to point where when you come out of the military you will get a regular CDL,” he said.