Sandberg: Good industry, government cooperation

July 1, 2005
Digest of a presentation May 10 by Annette M Sandberg, administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, during the National Tank Truck Carriers

Digest of a presentation May 10 by Annette M Sandberg, administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, during the National Tank Truck Carriers 57th annual conference in Chicago, Illinois. Comments made at the conference during an exclusive interview with Bulk Transporter have been included in this report.

I WANT to bring you up to date on the federal government's efforts to maintain and improve trucking safety, especially in the tank truck and HazMat sectors. I also want to talk to you about the impressive collaboration between our two organizations.

Safety is at the very heart of what we do at the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). DOT has set an aggressive goal of decreasing fatalities on our nation's highways. We are committed to reducing the fatality rate by 41% from 1996 to 2008.

We are encouraged that the fatality rate dropped last year, and alcohol-related crashes are down from 2003. Still, 42,800 people died on the nation's highways in 2004, up slightly from 2003, according to preliminary projections. Commercial vehicles were involved in nearly 5,000 of those deaths. We know that it's particularly challenging to bring down the fatality rate for motor carriers, because the truck miles traveled are increasing faster than vehicle miles.

Traffic crashes put an estimated $230 billion strain on our economy each year. This is another way transportation impacts the nation's economic growth.

I believe we're all partners in the effort to keep our highways safe, and I think NTTC has been a model partner in this effort. You have provided a great deal of support and expertise to DOT on training, cargo tank safety, materials handling, and other areas that are critical to the safe movement of hazardous materials.

Government-industry partnerships

I want to specifically mention two initiatives that exemplify what government-industry partnerships should be about. During the past five years, FMCSA and NTTC have collaborated on more than 40 workshops — training more than 1,200 individuals on the requirements for properly testing and inspecting cargo tanks. This effort has significantly improved the quality of inspections being conducted within the industry.

More recently, NTTC organized educational sessions with FMCSA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA — formerly RSPA — on how DOT can improve the hazmat regulations. This is the kind of collaboration that promotes understanding of issues and uses the strengths of industry and government to improve safety.

It's clear that hazmat carriers must meet higher standards for safe and secure operations than more conventional trucking companies, because they are moving high-risk cargo. Together, we have dramatically improved the working relationship between FMCSA and the regulated community, boosting the overall safety of cargo tanks. I want to thank you for your vitally important contribution to our safety efforts and for setting an example for other organizations to follow.

I know there is a greater concern among hazmat carriers that multiple agencies are imposing regulations on your operations. I want to stress that many of these regulations were mandated by Congress. We at FMCSA are sensitive to your concerns, and we want to work closely with you to help you meet these requirements.

In fact, President Bush has made reducing unnecessary costs associated with federal regulations a priority. As a result, DOT is conducting a far-reaching review of the department's regulations. Our goal is to ease the regulatory burden that affects your bottom line. This could mean simplifying regulations — or even eliminating those that are no longer necessary — to come up with the least costly, most effective way of carrying out our responsibilities.

Legislative priorities

A critical area that impacts our partnership right now is legislation. One of our biggest priorities at DOT is working with Congress to get a surface transportation reauthorization bill passed and on the President's desk.

We've been waiting over a year-and-a-half since the expiration of TEA-21. We don't know when the reauthorization bill will be coming down the pike; we hope it's soon. None of us wants a seventh extension of TEA-21. However, a seventh extension is likely.

This legislation affects not just funding, but policy. The Bush Administration's proposal includes initiatives that will improve safety and expand capacity on our roads, bridges, and highways, and provide greater flexibility for addressing many freight transportation concerns.

I urge all of you to express your views on reauthorization to the appropriate members of the House and Senate.

At FMCSA, we have a number of priorities we really want to see included in the reauthorization bill. In February, DOT sent Congress revised language on the administration's reauthorization proposal. We had a number of very specific requests, including hours of service (HOS).

As you all know, there has been a lot of activity on this issue since FMCSA implemented the new HOS rule at the beginning of 2004. In July 2004, a federal court ruled that FMCSA must reconsider the new HOS rule, directing the agency to better address the new regulations' impact on the health of truck drivers.

Since the court's decision last year, we have been working to craft a new rule. In the meantime, Congress actually gave us a one-year reprieve, so we have until September 30 of this year to draft a new rule. I'm sure many of you submitted comments to our rulemaking docket. We are in the process of getting that rulemaking done — and I can tell you right now, it is on track to be completed by September 30.

Meanwhile, we're running a parallel track, and that proposal is part of the package of adjustments we sent to Congress in February. We're asking Congress to codify the existing HOS rule, and I believe we still have ample opportunity to do that.

We're asking Congress to make the HOS rule permanent because the parties that brought the lawsuit already have made it very clear that if there are not significant changes to the HOS rule, we will be in court again.

Congressional action will assure the rule will remain in place in order to reduce highway deaths and injuries. Approval of these provisions also will end uncertainty about the HOS rule among motor carriers, drivers, law enforcement, and shippers.

Our proposal additionally allows for subsequent changes to the HOS rule. This will enable FMCSA to ensure the rule can be assessed in the future and, if necessary, revised. I believe the existing HOS rule provides the appropriate safety that we need on America's highways, and I've said so to Congress. We're hoping they'll take that language, put it in the reauthorization bill, and get it passed.

However, if Congress doesn't pass the reauthorization bill before September, FMCSA still has to issue a rule. So, we're continuing down both tracks. If we don't have reauthorization by September, we will have a rule by September 30. But I'll continue working with the House and the Senate to convince them to codify the existing rule.

I know you're also interested in FMCSA's related rulemaking on electronic onboard recorders. We began the rulemaking last fall with a comment period. We are reviewing all the comments that came in, and we are drafting a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we hope to have out by January 2006.

FMCSA has other priorities within the administration's reauthorization proposal that are more specific to hazmat safety and enforcement. These provisions are included in the House-passed bill and in the Senate committee bill, which is currently being debated. The prospects are good that they will be in the final package.

One provision gives FMCSA the authority to order vehicles, drivers, and carriers out of service for violating hazmat regulations. Currently, we can issue out-of-service orders only for violations of our safety regulations — serious operating infractions that can threaten safety, such as brake problems or driver hours-of-service violations. This hazmat provision would give us that same authority for critical violations of the HM regulations, such as improper packaging or a vehicle without placards.

Another provision will increase significantly the maximum penalties for violations of HM regulations, going from $32,500 to $100,000. DOT believes this is necessary because hazmat spills have the potential for disastrous impact on public safety and the environment.

We are counting on your partnership to help all HM carriers understand the importance of these safety regulations.

NTTC has provided FMCSA with a lot of support on security issues. This is a responsibility our agency holds jointly with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

We're working closely with the Transportation Security Administration on the hazmat driver background checks that are now required. Without question, more fingerprint sites are needed across the nation. Many states have just the minimum of two sites. Local police departments probably should have been used from the outset. TSA is looking at mobile fingerprint collection sites, as well as other options.

HazMat security has been a top priority in transportation since 9/11. FMCSA has a comprehensive hazmat security program, working closely with DHS and PHMSA. NTTC has been instrumental in several aspects of this program, beginning with the hazmat Security and Safety Field Operational Test. We released the report earlier this year.

This real-world, real-time test has allowed us to assess potential security and safety improvements through the use of various technologies. The test showed us which systems work and which ones need more development. NTTC's cooperation on this project was instrumental in helping us produce findings that could significantly improve homeland security and highway safety nationwide.

Another important component of FMCSA's homeland security efforts is our hazmat safety permit program. The new requirements took effect at the beginning of this year. Last year, we distributed more than 39,000 letters and brochures describing the new requirements to hazmat carriers. Certain carriers of extremely high-hazard materials, such as explosives and toxic gases, must be specially permitted.

Since January 1, 2005, we have issued 235 permits. We also have denied nearly 130 applications for failing to meet the new requirements — about 35% of total applicants. Some carriers have submitted appeals, which we are currently examining. We want to work with carriers to be sure they meet those requirements. But we'll stand firm in ensuring these extremely hazardous materials are transported in the safest manner possible.

Recently, the Washington DC government took action to reroute certain hazmat shipments that come within about two miles of the US Capitol. This is an extremely important issue as other local governments may consider similar measures. Of course, this has been subject to litigation. FMCSA is watching closely as this situation unfolds in federal court.

Cargo tank rollover is another critical concern and a high priority for FMCSA in the hazmat sector. We commissioned a detailed study of HM vehicle crashes using a variety of crash data, police accident reports, and motor carrier information.

We learned that 23% of all cargo tanks crashes include a rollover. Even more alarming, this number increases to 75% when the cargo tank truck is negotiating a turn. This is quite dramatic when you compare these numbers to the 3% to 4% of all commercial motor vehicles that roll over during crashes.

These findings are providing us with important direction on the need to improve the roll stability performance of cargo tanks. To address this need, FMCSA is beginning new research to identify design and sensory technologies that could help prevent rollovers.

We need to test the electronic stability technologies that are on the market. We also need to do tank baffle tests. We'll certainly work with NTTC, and it's possible that fleet initiatives could forestall regulation. However, it's important to remember that we have to reach the lowest common denominator in the trucking industry.

I think the best way of reducing rollovers is driver training. That's why I'm so pleased NTTC is considering an outreach program to drivers on cargo tank rollovers. I want to commend you for fully recognizing this problem and taking action to solve it.

Finally I'd like to talk to you about one of the DOT's highest safety priorities — safety belts. The Bush Administration is proud that we have raised the national safety belt usage rate to 80% — the highest level ever. This is estimated to save more than 15,000 lives and prevent $50 billion in economic costs every year.

However, a recent study by FMCSA showed that only 48% of truck and bus drivers buckle up. In 2003, 620 truck drivers died in crashes, more than 170 of whom were ejected from their cabs. And almost 80% of those drivers were not wearing safety belts. This is even more dramatic in light of the recently reported projection that truck-related fatalities increased in 2004.

In December 2003, Secretary Mineta gathered with trucking and enforcement leaders to launch this country's broadest effort ever to get truckers to wear their safety belts — the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Belt Partnership. NTTC has been a member of this program from the beginning. I want to thank you for your important participation in this effort.

At DOT, we're trying to increase safety belt use among all drivers in two ways. Together with the Safety Belt Partnership, FMCSA is asking truck drivers to buckle up. The more drivers realize the benefits of wearing a safety belt, the more lives will be saved. And we're doing everything we can to encourage more states to pass primary safety belt laws, which have proven effective wherever they exist.

The Safety Belt Partnership remains very active. The momentum has been building since the 2003 announcement, and just last month the partnership launched an outreach campaign with new theme: “Be ready. Be buckled.” FMCSA will use this new common-sense theme to continue spreading the message — through 200,000 brochures, 50,000 bumper stickers, posters displayed in truck stops and motor carrier facilities, t-shirts, hats, and more.

So this will be an exciting year for the safety belt initiative. I want to urge all of you to tell your drivers: BE READY… BE BUCKLED.

We remain concerned about the new drivers who enter the trucking industry, but we also recognize the challenges posed to the US economy by the shortage of drivers. We know that responsible carriers hire good drivers and train them well. It's the fringe carriers that are the problem. It was for those fringe carriers that we developed the rule with minimum training requirements for entry-level drivers.

We need to find ways to attract new drivers to trucking. This industry loses a lot of potential employees in the 18-21 age range. Is there a place in the industry for younger truck drivers? Can we show that an 18 year old is a safe truck driver?

Special recognition

Before I close, I have a special privilege of recognizing someone who has been vitally important to NTTC's success. I believe that every organization that sets good examples for others must have a leader who does the same. Cliff Harvison has been that leader.

Cliff, your decades of experience in transportation span your entire career, dating back to your service in the US Army Transportation Corps. You've served as president for 33 of your 40 years with NTTC — a praiseworthy achievement for any leader.

But I think even more praiseworthy is the way that you have set the stage for partnership. Thanks to your honesty, integrity, and a great teamwork attitude, your efforts have helped to improve significantly tank truck and motor carrier safety and productivity.