SAN DIEGO – A veteran transportation attorney who remembers fondly the days when the Interstate Commerce Commission issued meaningful regulations, told transportation executives Monday not to expect such fact-based rulings today from the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
“The ICC was an independent regulatory agency,” John Bagileo, principal at the Law Office of John R. Bagileo, said at the SMC3 Connections 2015 conference here. The ICC was independent from Congress and the President, and its staff were “all experts,” he said. The ICC’s rulings were normally upheld by courts — at a rate of about 86 percent, Bagileo said.
The ICC, which issued rulings on transportation issues for almost 100 years, was abolished in 1995 after deregulation of the trucking and rail industries in 1980. Today the DOT and the FMCSA regulate truck safety. Since those agencies are accountable to Congress and the president, their decisions are often influenced by politics, Bagileo said.
As a result, the attorney charged, federal regulations today cost the industry a good deal of money without necessarily resulting in a safer trucking industry because “DOT is part of the government.”
Bagileo cited four regulations that are in various stages of implementation or change that he said are making life difficult for truckers: A revamp of the drivers hours of service regulations that may or may not be concluded in the coming months, an increase in the minimum insurance requirements for truckers, minimum training regulations for new drivers and continued enhancements to the Compliance Safety and Accountability Act of 2010.
The hours of service regulations are under review, and a pending report is intended to clarify parts of the act such as the restart provision which was suspended until September 2015. Truckers generally believe that the hours-of-service regulations have reduced effective capacity in their industry.
Another proposal would increase the minimum amount of insurance that truckers must carry from current requirements of $750,000 for general liability and $1 million for carriers of hazardous materials. Bagileo said the insurance premium for general liability is $5,000 per vehicle, which is difficult enough for small motor carriers and owner-operators to afford. “Imagine what it would be like if it were raised to $1 million,” he said. He added that at least one study concluded that the number of times $750,000 liability is exceeded in an accident is “negligible.”
The FMCSA earlier this year closed its comment period for developing new driver training regulations that would apply to new drivers working on their commercial driver’s license or existing drivers updating their license. The process of developing the regulations is intended to be collaborative with industry.
Bagileo charged that the way the CSA 2010 regulations are written would lead jurors to believe in most instances that a driver involved in an accident “is a bad actor,” he said. In fact, studies have shown that in many cases accidents involving truckers are caused by drivers of passenger vehicles. Those rules could be modified as well by Congress.
The bottom line, Bagileo said, is that the trucking industry already faces a capacity crunch and is operating on thin margins. Uncertainty surrounding these and other trucking regulations will serve to make the situation worse. The industry needs decisive action by Congress, but Congress is reluctant to change rules it created. The industry also needs clarity and timely decisions, but whenever they have a deadline, it seems that DOT and FMCSA “always miss it,” he said.