Nov. 22, 1999
Statement of Public Citizen President Joan Claybrook on Passage of Truck Safety Legislation
At long last, Congress has addressed a major national killer on our highways: the lack of adequate regulatory control over truck safety. The motor carrier safety legislation that Congress approved Friday is a positive first step, although it should by no means be the final step.
We are encouraged that Congress made safety a priority in this legislation. We also are pleased that data collection will be handled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is well-suited to perform this task. We are further encouraged that the bill places tougher restrictions on the issuance of commercial drivers licenses and calls for training and certification standards for both public and private safety auditors.
However, we are dismayed that the bill contains no significant conflict of interest provision. This is critical to ensuring that the government stops doling out money to the trucking industry to conduct research that will be used to craft truck safety regulations. This is a major problem identified by the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, which has criticized the cozy relationship between the trucking industry and the Office of Motor Carriers (OMC), the agency that has had the task of regulating trucks. (Since 1996, the OMC awarded more than $8 million to the American Trucking Association and its consultant to perform research on various issues, including driver fatigue and graduated licensing.)
We also strenuously urge the transportation secretary to assign rulemaking authority to NHTSA, as is permitted by the legislation. NHTSA has been successful in establishing rules and making them stick, and has a good track record of regulatory oversight. This is long overdue in the truck safety arena. The OMC has performed fewer truck inspections and compliance reviews even as truck-related deaths and injuries have risen. The agency has ignored serious safety violations, levied inadequate fines, failed to adequately collect data and failed to issue federal safety standards as mandated by Congress.
We also would like to note that it is crucial that the secretary appoint an individual who is wholly independent to manage the new motor carrier safety agency. This is the only way that the agency can be effective.