Truck safety regulators are focusing increasingly not on the truck but on the driver who operates it. By targeting driver behavior — from the number of hours spent behind the wheel each day to cell phone texting — federal regulators hope to smash roadblocks to significantly lower truck-related injuries and fatalities.
“The total number of crashes, though declining, is still unacceptably high,” the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in its Dec. 29 notice of proposed rule-making on truck driver hours-of-service, published in the Federal Register.
As the FMCSA notes in its rule-making, truck crash rates have been declining since 1979, well before the daily driving limit changed from 10 to 11 hours in 2003. The number of deaths in fatigue-related truck crashes dropped 33 percent from 2003 through 2009, while the number of truck-involved injuries declined 39 percent.
A series of rule-makings aims to improve crash figures even more by eliminating bad driver behavior — or forcing bad drivers out of trucking. Two rule-makings stand out this year — the latest revision of the hours-of-service rules and the rollout of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, better known as CSA.
The FMCSA is slated to launch a rule-making on a new carrier safety rating system under CSA this year and issue a final rule on driver work hours by July 26.
The CSA program doesn’t add new safety regulations, but it radically changes the way the FMCSA and state officials enforce truck safety rules. In essence, CSA shifts attention from trucking company records to truck driver performance, from post-accident audits to pre-emptive action to prevent crashes.
Under CSA, which went live in December, motor carrier safety ratings are based on live data from states fed into the FMCSA’s database. That data includes driver citations and violations and accident records as they are reported. If a company has a large number of drivers cited for safety violations, the FMCSA can act before a potential crash occurs — rather than auditing a carrier post-accident.
As CSA kicks in, a significant number of drivers could find themselves unemployable, raising demand for drivers with clean safety records.
The trucking industry largely favors CSA, though smaller companies are concerned shippers will misread or misuse online data and shun them over relatively minor safety issues in fear of vicarious liability in accident lawsuits.
The trucking industry is much more concerned about the FMCSA’s proposed hours-of-service rule, which would cut into the number of hours drivers spend behind the wheel even before determining what the daily driving limit should be. The rule proposed Dec. 23 would require all on-duty work be completed within 13 hours, as opposed to 14 under the current rule, and introduce a change to the 34-hour restart provision that could lengthen the amount of time drivers spend off-duty. It also may cut the maximum daily driving limit back to 10 hours.
“Because the drivers who work very extensive hours are a relatively small minority, FMCSA does not anticipate that this rule would have a significant adverse impact on the industry,” the agency said in its rulemaking.
The industry disagrees, and the final rule, if unchanged, may face a legal challenge that could delay its rollout.
Contact William B. Cassidy at email@example.com.