How Anne Ferro changed trucking

In five years as Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator, Anne S. Ferro has changed trucking. Like them or not — and many in trucking really, really don’t — the programs and rules implemented during her tenure at the FMCSA are reshaping an industry slow to embrace change.

Since 2009, her agency has reworked driver hours of service rules, struggled with an electronic logging device mandate and, most importantly, developed its Compliance, Safety, Accountability or CSA initiative, an enforcement program rooted in near real-time data on driver behavior. 

The cumulative safety impact of the CSA initiative, new HOS rules, and the upcoming electronic logging mandate — the three pillars supporting Ferro’s driver-centric strategy — may not be clear for years, but these rules and initiatives already affecting carriers, brokers, shippers and drivers.

The biggest impact of those rules has fallen on truck drivers themselves. Tighter hours of service, tougher enforcement, and a host of other rules on the books and in the works are shrinking the pool of available, qualified drivers — though perhaps also improving that pool.

“It’s all about the driver,” Ferro told JOC.com in a 2011 interview at a listening session on hours of service. “It comes down to how the driver behaves and how well the company is supporting that driver’s focus on safety. It’s a whole network of interlocking pieces.”

Ferro also changed the FMCSA, which was only 9 years old when she took charge. She sharpened the agency’s focus on the truck driver and developed a multipronged strategy to challenge truck driver behavior that contributed to truck crashes and highway deaths.

Importantly, she brought a broad vision of the supply chain and how shippers and brokers affect driver health and safety to her job. The last highway bill, she argued, gave the FMCSA authority to regulate and perhaps fine shippers who detained drivers for hours at their docks.

“She’s had one of the more consequential roles of any FMCSA administrator,” said Mike Regan, chief relationship officer at TranzAct Technologies and advocacy chair for shipper group NASSTRAC. “Whether you like them or not, these rule-makings are big deals.”

Who her successor will be is a big deal, too. The Obama administration hasn’t put forward any names yet, though FMCSA Deputy Administrator Bill Bronrott, described on the agency’s website as Ferro’s “right hand,” is a potential candidate with significant experience.

Experience dealing with a hostile Republican base in Congress will be critical for the next administrator. Fault lines likely will appear in the nominee’s confirmation hearing. Four years ago, Democrats held up Ferro’s nomination, fearing she was too close to the trucking industry.

This time, opposition will come from Republicans who want the latest changes to the HOS rules reversed and who have challenged the FMCSA’s zero-fatality goal as unreasonable. Like everything in Washington, the FMCSA’s role has become highly politicized.

Should those regulated by the FMCSA expect a major course change or reconsideration of programs such as CSA or the HOS rules under a new administrator? That’s highly unlikely. The current rules may be associated with Ferro, but they are the products of an agency.

Rule-makings on electronic logging, driver coercion and a new motor carrier safety fitness determination system tied into data drawn from CSA will proceed apace. Current programs and rules may be fine-tuned, but Ferro’s legacy at the FMCSA and in trucking is likely to be lasting.

Contact William B. Cassidy at wcassidy@joc.com and follow him on Twitter: @wbcassidy_joc.

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