The National Transportation Safety Board last week recommended Department of Transportation audits of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
's oversight process in the wake of four deadly crashes that the agency investigated. It said the findings from those investigations raise serious questions about the monitoring and enforcement of compliance with motor carrier and bus regulations.
The four accidents resulted in 25 deaths and 83 injuries. The NTSB said red flags about safety deficiencies were present prior to the crashes, but were unnoticed or were not acted upon by FMCSA regulators until after the accidents.
“While FMCSCA deserves recognition for putting bad operators out of business, they need to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high-visibility events,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in a statement.
The NTSB found fault with the thoroughness and quality of FMCSA’s compliance reviews and their increasing reliance on focused-compliance reviews, which examine only a limited portion of the commercial operation.
One of the deadly accidents cited by the NTSB occurred in Elizabethtown, Ky., in March when a commercial truck operated by Highway Star of Troy, Mich., rear-ended a 1999 Ford Expedition, killing six people. The NTSB said FMCSA inspectors had completed an oversight review of the company five days before the crash, but the review did not focus on driver compliance with hours-of-service regulations even though prior reviews had found drivers cheating on their allowable driving hours. The carrier also had a long history of driver violations for exceeding their legal work day. Following the crash, the FMCSA completed a full compliance review and gave Highway Star an "unsatisfactory" rating. It then ordered the company to cease operating for violating hours-of-service rules, permitting drivers to falsify records of duty status, and failing to preserve records of duty shifts.
The independent agency called on the DOT to address any problems uncovered by the audits.
The American Trucking Associations said the NTSB report demonstrates the need for the Obama administration to accelerate efforts to mandate electronic logging devices in commercial trucks and to improve its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program for monitoring and measuring carriers, and targeting high-risk operators.
"ATA is a strong believer that electronic logging would go a long way toward improving hours-of-service compliance" by preventing drivers from "disguising such violations in the future," ATA President Bill Graves said in a statement.
CSA is a three-year-old program designed to collect and analyze data from road-side inspections, moving violations and crashes in a database and then intervene to address a carrier's specific safety problems. The Safety Measurement System uses seven safety categories to examine a carrier's on-road performance and potential crash risk. Interventions include early warning letters, targeted roadside inspections and focused compliance reviews.
The ATA said the FMCSA "must improve its CSA program to better identify carriers more likely to be involved in future crashes, with a greater focus on unsafe carriers than the general population."