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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Fails to Meet Congressional Mandate to Improve Big Truck Safety

June 10, 2003


Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Fails to Meet Congressional Mandate to Improve Big Truck Safety


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Three and a half years after lawmakers overhauled the agency responsible for the safety of large trucks on the highway, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) continues to delay or disregard congressional mandates for long-overdue safety standards, said Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook in Senate testimony Tuesday.

“Despite repeated promises by FMCSA to significantly reduce truck-related deaths and injuries on our highways and chart an improved course to enhance motor carrier safety, and despite increases in funding and resources for the new government agency, the traveling public remains the victim of an underachieving, and at times, indifferent agency,” Claybrook said.

Claybrook testified on behalf of Public Citizen, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH), Parents Against Tired Truckers, and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. Her comments were delivered to the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

Claybrook noted that almost 5,000 people are killed each year in truck-related crashes – the equivalent of 26 major airplane crashes. Another 130,000 are injured in crashes that cost the economy $24 billion a year. In 1999, the year that Congress passed the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act, the FMCSA adopted a goal of reducing truck deaths by half over a decade. “That goal will not be achieved,” Claybook said.

Claybrook submitted a list of more than 20 congressional directives since 1988 that have not been completed by the agency. Public Citizen filed suit against the agency in 2002 for failing to implement five such rulemaking actions. They agency settled the suit and agreed to issue final rules on the actions by June 2004. Among the problems cited by Claybrook in her testimony:

  • Oversight of hazardous materials transportation is dangerously inadequate.

There is a critical lack of coordination between two U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) agencies – the FMSCA, which issues general permits to carriers, and the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA), which registers carriers to haul hazardous materials. In addition, the FMSCA has failed to meet a congressional directive to require commercial driver’s licenses to contain some form of unique identifier to minimize fraud and illegal duplication. Even in the wake of recent terrorist acts, the RSPA has proposed weak standards involving hazardous materials transportation, safety guidelines and driver qualifications.

  • Many truck and bus safety issues at the Mexico border are still unresolved.

The agency has failed to require adequate safety audits of Mexico-domiciled carriers that will operate in the border zone. This means that operating authority will be based solely on the basis of paper applications and on unverified documents submitted with the applications. Less than one-third of the Mexican trucks and buses currently operating on Mexico’s federal roads were built to U.S. standards.

  • The new hours-of-service rules are unsafe for both commercial drivers and the public.

This year the agency increased the number of consecutive hours a driver can operate a rig. Overall, the rule increases driving hours by more than 20 percent. This came despite overwhelming evidence that the risk of a crash soars between the tenth and eleventh hour of driving. In addition, the agency decided not to require electronic recorders to be installed in trucks, which would provide reliable data on how many hours truckers drive.

  • Truck crash data collection is inadequate and inaccurate due to a lack of uniformity.

Despite a congressional directive to improve collection and analysis of crash data, the FMCSA has taken no action to require a nationally uniform crash data report form to be filled out by enforcement authorities so that a detailed, accurate national database of crash data can be compiled.

  • FMCSA pursues experimental “pilot programs” at the expense of safety.

The agency has offered a series of pilot programs, sometimes at the behest of regulated carriers, and continues to publish new initiatives even while ignoring legislatively mandated requirements for safety standards and specific pilot programs. One such agency-initiated proposed pilot program proposed to lower the age for interstate drivers of big trucks from 21 to 18-20, who are over-involved in crashes. After extensive objections, it was abandoned this week.

  • The commercial driver license (CDL) program is too lenient.

The rules lack a requirement for a commercial driver license (CDL) for drivers of trucks that are less than 26,001 pounds. There are millions of single-unit trucks weighing between 10,001 and 26,000 pounds that are being operated by drivers who have no CDLs and are not subject to mandatory drug and alcohol testing. No training or prior certification is required for interstate CDLs. Drivers can obtain a license to carry hazardous materials with only a written test.

  • Programs like “Share the Road” are ineffective and should be reformed or terminated.

The Share the Road program has been the subject of two investigations by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and is a waste of taxpayer money. The GAO was unable to find that the program was effective.

The testimony came during a hearing on reauthorization of the truck-safety law that created the FMCSA. It would increase funding by 20 percent through 2009, to $499 million. Claybrook said that while more money needs to be spent on truck safety, “we are not sure that this agency knows how to spend it effectively without strong direction, specified goals and sustained goading from Congress.”

To read the testimony on the Web, click here.