A Leg up on Safety

When you decided to become an owner-operator, did you feel qualified? Did you know everything about running a business? Staying profitable? Operating safely? Overdrive research says two-thirds of owner-operators held other jobs before going into trucking. Most of you then spent about seven years as company drivers before starting your own business. That means you learned everything you know about tracking costs, finding loads and complying with safety regulations from experience – and by talking to other owner-operators.

While this learn-as-you-go approach has its benefits, learning from your mistakes can be costly, especially if they affect your safety or that of other motorists. That’s the thinking behind the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed stricter minimum requirements for new motor carriers. The idea is to ensure that new carriers – FMCSA gets about 40,000 applicants each year – know and understand the federal safety standards.

Under the new plan, in order to get your own authority, you would have to demonstrate knowledge of the safety regulations included in the application packet and undergo a safety audit within your first 18 months in business. You would need to show how you would meet a variety of requirements, including driver qualifications (if applicable), hours of service, controlled substance and alcohol testing, vehicle condition, accident monitoring and financial responsibility. Fail to demonstrate the basic ability to operate safely, and you would be denied permanent operating authority.

The goal is to improve new carriers’ safety performance by providing education and technical assistance early on. And while it’s difficult not to be skeptical of any expanded government program, educating new carriers before there’s a safety violation – or worse yet, an accident – makes sense. Instead of just being held accountable for complying with the rules, you’ll be given the tools you need to do so.

Improved safety performance might not be the only benefit. As long as all that’s required to get into trucking is cash and the ability to complete some paperwork, unsafe, fly-by-night carriers will continue to join your ranks. Those same carriers not only drive accident rates up, they drive freight rates down.

Because this program stresses outreach over enforcement, it has the potential to give viable carriers a leg up on safety, while keeping the bad apples off our highways. That’s a welcome change from the typical government approach to truck safety.

To comment on the new requirements, go to dmses.dot.gov/submit and request Docket No. 11061. Comments must be received by July 12.

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