FMCSA chief safety officer and assistant administrator says progress has been made on accident fatalities, but it's still not enough

JACK Van Steenburg, chief safety officer and assistant administrator for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), said he is pleased with the 24% reduction in fatalities due to large truck and bus crashes over the past four years, but more can be done.

“Safety is our #1 mission,” he said while addressing attendees May 8 during the Annual Safety Awards luncheon at the National Tank Truck Carriers 64th Annual Conference in San Francisco, California. “We've made progress, but keep in mind that last year 4,000 people lost their lives in large truck and bus crashes. We need to do better. Your effort this week and throughout the year contributes to highway safety. We need to do better. And we can do better.”

Van Steenburg, who serves as the agency's chief safety advocate promoting partnerships with federal, state, and local governments and provides direction over all national commercial vehicle safety programs, said rollover prevention is a key aspect of FMCSA's partnership with NTTC.

“We've come a long way with people wearing seatbelts as well, but somehow we have to get the message to more drivers,” he said. “Basically, they have to slow down, know what they're carrying, and know the roadways and conditions. We have to stop those rollovers. If they don't cause fatalities, they can cause a major disruption to the highway.”

NTTC Jack Van Steenburg

He said FMCSA focuses on three key principles:

  • Raising the bar for safety.

    “We need to change the registration system,” he said. “We don't want carriers that are not fit and willing and able to comply with regulations. I see carriers that say they want to, but too many times I see they are not able to. We put some rules in place to help raise the bar to entry. We're also doing some vetting, basically — some background investigating on carriers that apply to enter into this business. Our plan is to expand that throughout the years so we can capture what carriers are registering and what their history is.”

  • Requiring carriers to maintain high safety standards.

    “Not one rule is going to save all lives. It's a combination of rules and your compliance and the states' enforcement that will save more lives. CSA (the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program that FMCSA launched in 2011) gives us the ability to have more contact and interaction with carriers. I love the program. It's a great program that enables us to look at all carriers. A lot of people said we don't have enough information on carriers. But there are 525,000 registered carriers that are active. Of those, we have sufficient data on nearly 200,000 of them. That tells us that 200,000 of carriers operate 80% of the commercial vehicles driven on highways, and they're involved in 92% of reported crashes. So our data is focusing on carriers that are having crashes. So we're focused on the right carriers.”

  • Removing unsafe drivers and carriers from the roads.

    “How do we remove high-risk carriers? A pattern of safety violations or acute violations. We've also issued almost 1,000 out-of-service notices to carriers for being unfit. We went in for compliance reviews and the entire operation was deemed unsatisfactory. We put them out of business. Last year, we issued 16 orders where we felt carriers were likely to cause a fatality or serious physical injury, and we put them out of business.”

Addressing the CSA's new standalone Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) dealing with hazardous material, he said that it isn't an issue with NTTC members, but it is with other carriers whose scores are rising.

“Their violations are placarding the everyday things you take care of,” he said. “We're going to be changing some terminology where it says ‘inconclusive or insufficient data.’ We are going to actually tell what that means.

“Right now, we capture all recordable crashes. We went out publicly and said we're going to change the crash-accountability system now in place, but as we publicly talked about the plan, people said we have to think this through: ‘You're not a police officer. How do you know you're reviewing the correct police accident report? Who are you going to talk to? The police officer? Truck driver? Passenger vehicle? Insurance company?’ These are things we need to consider.

“What we know now is that those who have a high frequency of crashes are more likely to have future crashes. We know that. If we develop a new crash-weighting program with people that are involved in more crashes, there may be an even higher frequency of crashes. But we are going to do more research. We're going to check some NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) data. Right now, it's raw data in there. We're going to put a disclaimer on that and say that these are recordable crashes only, with no consideration given to accountability.”

He said he likes the new hours-of-service rule published in the Federal Register on December 27, 2011.

“I ask those who are out here to really take a hard look and see how that 34-hour restart is going to impact you,” he said. “With a lot of carriers, it doesn't impact them at all. I've had people come up to me and say, ‘You put me out of business because I strictly operate midnights, and I won't be able to operate midnights.’ Well that's not so. Basically, it eliminates or mitigates the exposure to fatigue. It reduces drivers' capability of working 82 hours a week down to 70. So take a look at your operation and see how it's going to be impacted. I'm sure a lot of you have done that.

“It also requires drivers to take a 30-minute break within the first eight hours of coming on duty. To me, that's just common sense. It refreshes that driver and makes him healthier.”

He said FMCSA will be coming out with Federal Register guidance (published June 5) on oilfield operations, with vehicles having to be constructed specifically for oilfield operations.

“Constructed, not retrofitted,” he said. “And drivers have to be trained. Many of these drivers are more equipment operators than drivers.”

He also said FMCSA is going forward with a new supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking on electronic on-board recorders (EOBR), addressing driver harassment.

“The law itself allows for productivity, for a carrier who uses an EOBR to be productive,” he said. “But where do you draw the line? When does it become harassment? We hope to have something in the secretary's (Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's) office later this year. I think it's key. I've heard one company say, ‘It was a pressure-relief valve once we installed it. We weren't worried about anything, because everything was recorded.’” ♦

<< View more NTTC 2012 coverage
View more NTTC 2012 coverage >>

Find the NTTC Annual Conference Report archive with articles from 2011 to present


Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.