March 4, 2015 7:20 PM, EST

Sen. Deb Fischer to Offer FMCSA Reform Legislation

Senate Commerce livestream

WASHINGTON — Citing serious concerns with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “flawed approach” in a number of areas, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said during a March 4 Senate hearing she plans to unveil legislation that would reform safety initiatives and ensure the agency is more inclusive of stakeholders.

The legislation, Fischer said, would aim to improve the agency’s guidance review to provide the public greater transparency of the process and ensure the agency conducts more cost-benefit analyses and real-world studies of proposed regulations.

“For example, FMCSA issued the final 34-hour restart rule in 2013 with complete disregard for congressionally mandated requirements for an efficacy study on the rule’s impact,” Fischer said during a hearing of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security. “When the study was eventually issued several months late, the sample size was not representative of this diverse industry.”

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Fischer, the panel’s chairwoman, added, “In addition, serious concerns were raised about the rule’s perverse impact on safety because, in effect, it pushed drivers onto the roads during workers, students, and families’ morning commutes.” Fischer did not indicate when she would introduce the bill.

At the hearing, FMCSA acting Administrator Scott Darling told senators the Obama administration’s upcoming transportation legislative proposal would improve safety provisions at the agency, and it would ensure “fair compensation for the hours” commercial drivers work.

Joseph Come, the Department of Transportation’s deputy principal assistant inspector general for auditing and evaluation, testified that FMCSA has made progress in safety programs. He added that the agency still has challenges in improving its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) data quality and system development, shutting down “reincarnated” carriers and enforcing some of its own regulations.

Likewise, Susan Fleming, director of infrastructure issues for the Government Accountability Office, told the subcommittee that FMCSA has serious challenges in its reliability of CSA’s safety measurement system in predicting carrier crashes and the agency’s ability to determine the prevalence of so-called chameleon carriers operating on U.S. highways using different company names.

“We agree with FMCSA that a data-driven approach is critical for accomplishing its mission,” Fleming said. “However, we do not believe the agency has developed the most effective methods for using its data to target carriers presenting the greatest safety risk.”

Rounding out the panel’s witnesses, Christopher Hart, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said the increasing number of fatalities from truck-involved crashes was a top reason the board listed truck safety as one of its 2015 top 10 areas in need of improvement. He said his agency has identified shortcomings in FMCSA investigations of motor carriers that have allowed deficient carriers to continue to operate.

“The NTSB has issued 126 safety recommendations to the FMCSA, and more than half of them remain open,” Hart told the subcommittee.

Hart testified that fatigue is “far too often” cited as a contributing factor in truck accidents: “The NTSB sees a disturbing trend of crashes involving fatigued drivers operating well in excess of hours-of-service limitations. … The FMCSA must expeditiously issue the final electronic logging device rule to increase hours-of-service compliance for maximum safety.”

Hart also encouraged Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to direct FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require carriers to deploy such safety systems as speed limiters, forward collision warning and electronic stability control.