Driver dispatches to DOT: New priorities for a new secretary
With Anthony Foxx expected to come in officially this week as head of the Department of Transportation, we asked readers on our Facebook page to tell him what exactly he should make a priority relative to trucking. We know where the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been over the past several years under DOT’s last leader, Ray Lahood: Since 2009, when Lahood took office, we’ve had the handheld cell ban, an hours rewrite that went into effect yesterday, a mandate for electronic logs that’s still under way, among other new or fulfilled prior programs long in process. We’ve had the byzantine CSA system and the myriad little changes DOT, through FMCSA, has implemented since the program’s launch two and a half years ago, including new compliance-review processes that are enabling federal enforcement officials to respond to carriers with what they see as critical safety problems quite quickly — likewise making it harder for carriers put out of service to resurface under new authorities.
Most recently, FMCSA detailed its plans for the driver-focused portion of the CSA regime very publicly, in a report to Congress you can download here. Over the nine years summarized, the agency wants to develop a Driver Safety Fitness Determination similar to what they’re doing for carriers via CSA, in essence.
“When are they going to come up with a program to do away with all these new programs?” quipped Steven Mitchell in comments on our Facebook page.
Regardless of the potential safety-positive nature of some of these efforts (hard to argue against preventing bad actors popping up as so-called “chameleon carriers” under new authority, for one), a deluge of business-intrusive change as a fact of the trucking life these last several years is fairly self-evident. Thus, asked what Foxx should focus on, it’s no surprise some readers called for rollbacks.
“Strike down Lahood’s parting shot on the HOS,” wrote Douglas Holmes Connolly, Frank Wright adding that hours regs that “make sense, with our input,” would be most advantageous, then: leave well enough alone, “forever.”
A version of Jeff Clark’s “Gold Card Drivers” idea, modestly proposed here on the blog back in 2010 during the current hours rewrite’s comment period, surfaced, too — the notion of granting broad hours flexibility to proven safe drivers Tim W. McCollum would favor instituting after a driver reaches 3 million safe miles, when “he/she can probably figure out when he/she is tired and needs sleep.”
Other readers showed favor for a shift in enforcement priorities, in some senses already in movement via FMCSA’s MCSAP program for funding state enforcement activities, as I wrote here, and favored in a big way by readers, with 80 percent choosing on-highway behavior enforcement and police presence as the most safety-positive enforcement activity in polling in May.
“Close the scales,” wrote Kevin B. Heath. “Reposition commercial-motor-vehicle enforcement on patrol. If they want to write tickets, look at how professionals are driving and then react to that. You don’t need scales to do the job anymore. The money can be used more strategically.”
Finally, driver education stood large on readers’ mind — and we’re talking four-wheelers, here. Anything the new secretary could do to influence the motoring public’s behavior on the highways would go a long way with trucking pros, readers noted. “Focus more on the four-wheelers and less on trucks,” Jason M. Green summed up the sentiment.
With the continued focus on driver distractions in DOT’s nationwide campaign to increase awareness of unsafe driving behavior, that’s one I imagine the new secretary can hit the ground running with — we need more of it, aimed at the general public of drivers, and while we’re at it, Secretary Foxx, take a look at what owner-operator Steve Bixler had to say about education of drivers on safe maneuvering around big trucks. He’s got some great ideas about driver-training in that regard.