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Ferro outlines FMCSA “core priorities” to Mid-West truckers
Friday, 05 February 2010 00:00

PEORIA, Ill.—The top industry regulator—looking ahead to a series of wide-ranging policy initiatives this year—told truckers here that she has challenged her agency to think in new ways while advancing the federal safety agenda.

“It takes time to build that platform that we can launch from, but I think this is what the past decade has been about,” said Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is now in its 11th year. “We are in a better spot than we’ve ever been. That’s a great thing, but it’s not enough. We know that, and you all know that, because we live it every day.”

Opening the Mid-West Truck Show and Convention, Ferro acknowledged that she was “preaching to the choir” in calling for improved truck safety. She outlined the FMCSA agenda for the coming months, featuring a carrier safety assessment overhaul, Hours of Service reconsideration, distracted driving initiatives, and electronic on-board recorder mandates all in various stages of planning or implementation.

Ferro explained the agency’s “core priorities,” around which the safety programs are designed: “to raise the bar” for those trying to enter the industry; to maintain high safety standards for those who remain in the industry; and to ensure that high-risk operators are taken off the roads.

New entrant requirements, Ferro told the association gathering, are being put in place to prevent the “spiral down” that results when safe, established carriers have to compete with new trucking companies that are not up to federal standards—an issue that she knew was important from her days as a trucking association executive.

“If the agency is credentialing folks that aren’t safe and allowing them to operate, it hurts everybody,” Ferro said.

Similarly, Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) is designed to raise the safety bar for existing carriers through “a targeted approach” designed to identify and correct problems before accidents happen.

“I have never seen a program gain the attention of the industry so robustly as CSA 2010,” she said, adding the agency would be extending its education and outreach efforts as the program rolls out nationwide this summer.

She also noted “a point of confusion” regarding drivers.

“The CSA 2010 system is not rating drivers,” Ferro said. “It’s identifying motor carriers that may show a pattern of deploying unsafe drivers. It’s a measurement on the carrier.”

Ferro did leave open the possibility that FMCSA would establish a similar ratings system for drivers, “but not this year, and not next year,” and only after openly developing such a program.

“It’s not coming out of left field,” she said.

As for HOS, Ferro said FMCSA is “bound and determined to get it right this time.”

The agency’s timeline calls for delivering a draft rule by July. She noted that, of the four “listening sessions” to gather input on HOS rules, the best attended was the meeting held in Davenport, Iowa— located there to allow more convenient access for truckers.

“We had speakers every single hour (in Davenport). I was very impressed with the professionals who spoke,” Ferro said. “The others all ended early.”

In response to an audience question, Ferro assured the truckers that any new HOS rules were not being driven by the safety advocacy groups who have repeatedly challenged the standards in court, prompting the current reevaluation.

Ferro also credited drivers and carriers for supporting the recent texting-while-driving ban imposed on truckers, adding that criticism the rule is tough to enforce shouldn’t preclude the agency from acting on “grossly unsafe behavior.”

And while a texting ban should “absolutely” extend to all drivers, “professional drivers must be held to a higher standard, you’re the pros,” she said.

Ferro also encouraged truckers to be involved in the development of an industry-wide EOBR mandate.

“The carriers that are using EOBRs for safety and performance improvement have had a great experience with the technology,” she said, adding the agency would be looking into how to apply and phase-in a universal mandate, along with how to “keep it simple” and for potential loopholes., 2/5/2010