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FMCSA responds to safety panel criticism of CSA 2010 delays
Friday, 26 February 2010 00:00

WASHINGTON—Even as truckers express more than a little anxiety about this summer’s rollout of CSA 2010, that sweeping reform of the federal truck safety program can’t come soon enough for the panel charged with setting transportation safety priorities.

The National Transportation Safety Board, in its annual “Most Wanted List” meeting last week, downgraded “Improve the Safety of Motor Carrier Operations” to “unacceptable” status, faulting the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for taking too long to fully implement its Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative. The new program is designed to more thoroughly evaluate carriers—both drivers and vehicles—in order to detect and correct safety issues before they lead to prevent accidents.

Even though FMCSA has made “potentially viable plans,” the NTSB has run out of patience.

“When I came to the board in 2004, CSA 2010 was going to be the solution to everything,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman. “I really didn’t think I was going to be here in 2010, but I’m here and CSA 2010 is not.”

And while the new program is scheduled to go into effect later this year, rulemaking hurdles remain before the CSA 2010 regime can be used to formally take an unfit carrier off the road—a priority for the safety board.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” Hersman said. “They’ve been telling us everything’s going to be fixed, but we’re still waiting. We’re finding accident after accident, and things haven’t changed. I don’t want to be here in a year, and we’re saying ‘now it’s going to be 2015.’”

In response, FMCSA says the agency “is committed to moving as quickly as possible to roll out a robust and effective CSA 2010 safety measurement system later this year,” according to an e-mail reply to questions from The Trucker. “Our goal is to implement a new and improved safety enforcement program that ensures only the safest carriers and drivers can share our roadways.”

“Require Electronic Onboard Data Recorders” also remains on the Most Wanted List, and had previously been elevated to red, for “unacceptable response” from FMCSA.

The EOBR requirement stems from 2007 tractor-trailer rear end collision. NTSB views the recorders as an Hours of Service enforcement tool, as well as an aid in accident reconstruction.

And while the FMCSA has developed a proposed EOBR rule, only carriers with a high accident rate or a history of non-compliance would be required to install them, and only for a two-year period. The result, NTSB contends, is that the rule as proposed would effect only 930 of the 700,000 registered carriers.

The safety board wants the rule to apply to all carriers. And even though the FMCSA has said it is considering extending the requirement, intentions clearly are not good enough for NTSB.

Hersman also noted that the proposed EOBR rule doesn’t take into consideration the way carriers will be evaluated under CSA 2010.

“I think the whole thing is a mess. It doesn’t seem like it’s worth the trouble, it’s going to reach so few operators,” Hersman said. “It needs to be across the board. This is not punitive. It should level the playing field. If you have carriers who are complying with HOS, they’ll be rewarded. If you have carriers who are violating, they’re going to be brought into compliance. That's the purpose of EOBRs.”

On the other hand, Hersman added, if FMCSA can incorporate the universal requirement and get through the rulemaking process, the board would welcome the opportunity to remove EOBRs from their list next year.

Indeed, an FMCSA plan to broaden the EOBR requirement is already under way. The agency noted it has posted a schedule for the development of a new proposed rulemaking, calling for a March 17 release from the Office of Management and Budget, and for publication for comment on March 29.

The scope of the EOBR mandate will be made public with release of the NPRM, and the dates are subject to change.

FMCSA did get credit for its efforts to respond to the Most Wanted item, “Prevent Medically Unqualified Drivers from Operating Commercial Vehicles.”

Based on its investigations of accidents involving drivers with serious medical conditions, the NTSB has determined that serious flaws exist in the medical certification process for commercial vehicle drivers. Two of the eight specific recommendations in this area—dealing with FMCSA developing a comprehensive medical oversight program—were closed by the board, and the designation was upgraded from red to yellow, meaning “acceptable response, progressing slowly.”

“I think we should recognize the progress,” Hersman said, noting, however, that a number of other steps remain before the recommendation can be removed from the list.

The board also credited the Department of Transportation for recently initiating a texting ban for commercial vehicle drivers. The FMCSA added that a formal regulation is in the works.

“In January, the FMCSA took a huge step toward addressing the dangers of distracted driving by announcing that existing federal regulations may be enforced against most interstate commercial truck and bus drivers who text while driving,” the FMCSA statement said. “The existing regulatory guidance is not a substitute for a formal notice-and-comment texting ban rulemaking. This spring, the FMCSA will issue an NPRM that addresses a ban on texting while driving by most interstate commercial motor vehicle drivers.”

The proposed regulation would also restrict the use of cell phones while operating a commercial vehicle, according to the rule abstract—which also notes rulemaking would address the NTSB Most Wanted List.

TheTrucker.com, 2/26/2010