Ferro's mission

July 1, 2013
FMCSA’s administrator wants to continue reducing crash fatalities by raising the bar for safety, requiring strong standards, and removing risks from road

THE work is not finished. In fact, in many ways it’s only beginning.

Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), said the positive is that since 2005, the rate of fatalities in crashes involving trucks and buses has been reduced by 28%. She spoke at the Annual Safety Awards Luncheon April 30 during the National Tank Truck Carriers’ 65th Annual Conference in Austin, Texas.

“It didn’t come down by accident,” she said. “But we still have almost 10 people dying each day in crashes involving a bus or truck. Are they all the truck industry’s fault? No, but what can we all do to influence placement, timing, and outcome to eliminate those accidents? The good news is that you have had an impact already—a positive one from which we need to continue momentum.”

She said FMCSA has three core initiatives to do that:

•  Raising the bar for safety.

“That means getting a better registration system in place for companies applying for authority, because you know it,” she said. “You compete against individuals or entities we may have shut down or fined for failure to comply or unsafe behavior. They just go out and get a new DOT number. It’s way too easy today, if you are anything other than a household goods carrier or passenger carrier. The other 45,000 applicants don’t have tight screening to get through.

“FMCSA has to fix that registration process, so we’re valid at the point you come into the system, so that you can’t just sign your name certifying that you know the FMCSRs but that you actually know them so we can certify when you come into the system that we don’t already have a history on you or other principles in the company. Later this summer, the agency, with the Office of Management and Budget’s approval, will issue a final rule for URS, the Unified Registration System. It allows the agency—for the first time, actually mandates it—to combine our three core systems, including insurance and authorization, under a single system. It will not only be more efficient for you in terms of updating your census information, keeping your information current, and seeing who else is out there, but will create a better screening for applicants coming into the system to begin with. We’ve already begun putting in the requirements, and we expect the first component to come out later this year until 2014, when we get the full system in place.”

• Requiring strong safety standards to continue operation.

“Almost 60% of the agency’s annual budget is directed to grants to states so they can form and support commercial vehicle enforcement expertise within their own Department of Public Safety or DOT. To date, there are 12,000 such officers who primarily do roadside inspection work and in many cases may join us and do their own types of investigations and compliance reviews consistent with the national standard. At the heart of insuring that folks are maintaining high safety standards is monitoring operations on the roadway 24/7. The data points from that monitoring are what really provides performance data for our evaluation system that is the core component of CSA: the Safety Measurement System.

“SMS is really an evolution of the system we used before with our state partners: SafeStat. We use it to prioritize who we are going out to see. Better performance data or timely performance data—which is derived from that roadside inspection work and our compliance reviews or investigations—is really what allows us to pinpoint carriers showing trend lines for noncompliance. Under CSA, we have changed up the carriers we are going to see when our investigators are assigned priority high-risk carriers. CSA got our focus on carriers that were presenting a risk but were flying under our radar.”

She said the new Hours of Service rule, which took effect July 1, is another method to attack core fatigue behavior or the potential for drivers to be pressed beyond what is not just a normal work day, “but to minimize the risk that cumulative fatigue will catch up to the driver and put that driver and that driver’s cargo, and worse yet, the public around him at risk.”

She said FMCSA now has “a very robust website” detailing the new HOS rule, including logbook examples that demonstrate different scenarios.

Ferro said the electronic logging rule—under MAP-21, they were renamed electronic logging devices, rather than electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs)—was the result of long-time efforts to influence FMCSA to create a “level playing field.”

“It has been a rule a long time in coming,” she said. “We are eager to get it out before the end of the fiscal year. We will have approval for all of you to look at, read, discuss, and figure out what the impact will be to your operation, so you can get comments to us so that we can issue a final rule by the end of 2014. There is a two-year window from the date the agency has an electronic logging rule as a final rule. The agency must present a two-year window for everybody to adapt before the rule becomes final, so the actual effective date is 2016. That seems like a long window for all of us who have been driving to get this done, but we continue to try to get this moving as quickly and thoroughly as possible. We’re moving to insure that we incorporated a legal requirement that electronic logging devices are not used to harass a driver, whether that’s by a company official, enforcement official, or somebody else.”

• Removing bad actors from the roadway, whether they're a driver, company, or piece of equipment.

"We have had a very high-profile enforcement initiative under way with motorcoach companies carrying passengers. We are shutting those companies down in higher numbers than the agency has ever experienced before, because frankly, they shouldn’t have been allowed to continue to operate. We are not taking our eyes off the trucking industry while this initiative is underway. We have developed a more advanced set of investigative techniques. Our investigators are taking them into the trucking investigations as well. We are very focused on chameleon new carriers putting everybody at risk—yourselves from a competitive perspective and all of us from a safety perspective.

“We have absolutely no tolerance. I have zero tolerance for companies that have no business being on the roadway and drivers who have no business being behind the wheel, and I will continue to do everything I can to get all of you the tools you need to keep unsafe drivers from getting behind the wheel.”

She said one of the tools is the National Drug and Alcohol Clearing-house. FMCSA sent a proposal to the White House on March 26 and is awaiting the Office of Management and Budget’s final review before it becomes a final rule.

She said the rule would require employers to report “verified positive” drug and alcohol tests, as well as refusals by drivers to submit to testing to a federal database. Employers could then access the database before hiring drivers.

“It will be a system that’s very accessible to you to determine before you put a driver behind the wheel whether that driver has tested positive or has or has not complied with a normal substance-abuse treatment plan,” she said. “You don’t want that individual in your company, let alone behind the wheel. That’s a tool you need.

“You also need the employer notification system, where you enroll drivers and DMV will notify you within 24 hours to a week if that employee has a suspension on his or her record, or a moving-violation conviction you weren’t told about. Its information you need to know to keep an unsafe driver from getting behind the wheel. There are plenty of companies that can show an unsafe trend that will remediate and get better. That helps everybody. But for those who continue to violate, they shouldn’t be out there.”

Ferro thanked NTTC for its work on the rollover-prevention video and said it would not have happened without its partnership with FMCSA.

“You took the lead in getting that done,” she said. “It is clearly a higher risk for tank-truck drivers. Every one of those conversations you have with drivers about rollover prevention is great.

“You continue to demonstrate such remarkable commitment to safety. Clearly you carry products that warrant that level of attention to safety, detail, and integrity of process, and insuring that the whole team at your companies understands those elements to achieve a safety outcome. It doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by years of very deliberate effort, talent, development, and leadership.”  ♦

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.