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October 30, 2014 12:00 PM, EDT
MCSAC Advises on Insurance, Mexican Trucks, CSA Programs
Truck at Mexico border by John Sommers II for TT
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — An advisory committee to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration offered the agency guidelines on how to revise insurance minimums, submitted a final report on the recently concluded Mexican trucks pilot program and heard an update on new rules that FMCSA will propose for its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

The Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee made the recommendations here on Oct. 28.

“You get to appreciate how deliberative you have to be and how difficult it is to achieve changes,” MCSAC Chairman Stephen Owings said of the process of reviewing and debating reports line-by-line. He made the comments after leading the final meeting of his two-year term.

•FMCSA is at the beginning of its rewrite of mandatory insurance levels for the trucking and bus companies it regulates. Larry Minor, the agency’s associate administrator for policy, said he has sent the Office of Management and Budget an advanced notice that the agency will work on the matter, but there were no suggested levels for replacement of the current figures that range from $750,000 for general cargo to up to $5 million for the most dangerous hazardous materials.

There was consensus that trucking and bus companies should be considered separately. Representatives of both industries said insurance underwriters assess their levels of risk differently, so each industry should have different categories and minimums.

Committee members looked at how to gauge inflation. The current levels were set in 1985 based on 1980 prices. For general inflation, the Consumer Price Index is available, and there is also information on medical inflation.

However, Donald Osterberg, senior vice president for safety, security and driver training for trucking company Schneider, advised looking at the value of claim settlements over time.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, questioned the whole process saying that more than 99% of current settlements come in under the current insurance floors, so there is no need for change. He also said a large increase in the minimums could drive owner-operators and small fleets out of business as they would struggle to pay new, higher premiums.

• A MCSAC subcommittee reported on the Mexican pilot program and sent its findings to FMCSA acting Administrator Scott Darling III. The report did not make any recommendations on the future of Mexican trucking companies doing business in the United States, but noted that participation in the program was so limited that “data appears to be insufficient for analysis.”

During the program’s three years, which ended last month, Mexican-owned carriers racked up 1.2 million miles driving in the United States.

Henry Jasny, general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, called the mileage level a “blip” and insufficient for rigorous statistical analysis. Bill Quade, FMCSA associate administrator for enforcement and program delivery, agreed.

Most Mexican trucks run just north of the border in the U.S. commercial zone. The pilot program, however, concerned trucks running long distances into the United States.

Quade said the agency will take the MCSAC report and an evaluation coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Inspector General and then proceed. He did not offer scheduling details.

•A CSA brief was given by Quade and Minor, who said the agency will publish a proposal for updating the safety fitness determination process for carriers by June.

Carriers have traditionally been judged as fit, unfit or conditional.

According to FMCSA’s website, the rule will include a method for judging when a motor carrier is not fit to operate commercial vehicles.

Quade said that between Thanksgiving and Christmas the agency will issue a report on the feasibility of incorporating crash accountability in CSA scores. FMCSA wants to use crash events in its CSA calculations, but industry has balked because companies consider it unfair to include a crash if the commercial driver is not at fault and an automobile driver caused the accident.

FMCSA is also examining whether police reports are of sufficient quality and consistency to allow the agency to make judgments about responsibility for truck-involved crashes.

Quade also said the agency’s new Sentri software system will allow FMCSA to expand aspects of CSA that have been running on a test basis in 10 states.