Senior Contributing Editor Evan Lockridge
This financial advisor walks into a meeting of people who advise the federal government when it comes to safety policy involving trucks and says he's in favor of speed limiters...
This may sound like the beginning of a joke, however, it's anything but funny.
Steve Owings, co-founder of the group Road Safe America, has been appointed chairman of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. His and Road Safe America's mission is simple: to mandate speed limiters on trucks.
Road Safe America was started by Steve and his wife, Susan, in 2003, after their son Cullum was killed when his stopped car was struck from behind by a truck going 7 mph over the speed limit with the cruise control on. Tragic? No doubt. Does this make Steve Owings an expert when it comes to leading a group that advises FMCSA about safety? Hardly.
He's been a financial advisor since 1997. Before that, he was a senior director with a telecommunications provider. Had Owings’ son not been killed, he likely would never have been involved in trying to shape trucking policy.
I'm not saying someone from trucking would automatically be more qualified to head up MCSAC. One can easily argue that would be akin to the fox guarding the henhouse. But at least the previous chairman, David Parker, senior legal council of Great West Casualty, understands the concept of risk (and the fact that you can never eliminate all risk), since he works for a trucking insurance provider and knows the legal arena.
Parker has been reappointed, along with several other former committee members. Only one of the five new members appointed by FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro is directly from trucking, Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and security with Schneider National. The four others, plus one alternate member, are from the enforcement, unionized transit workers, driver training or public advocacy groups. In fact, public safety advocacy groups account for six of 20 seats on the committee, including the one alternate member. With another five seats representing enforcement, FMCSA has assembled a coalition of similar-minded interests, leaving trucking in the minority.
FMCSA no doubt thinks it's doing things right. When asked why trucking has only four seats
on the committee (counting just carriers and trucking associations, though the agency claims it has five from trucking), spokesman Duane DeBruyne in an email said the agency believes the trucking industry is “adequately represented” and complies with the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
What's ironic is when Ferro was appointed to head up FMCSA, some public advocacy groups cried foul, because she was working for the Maryland Motor Truck Association. Now, they no doubt think she is the best thing since sliced bread, with Owings as chairman and advocacy groups and enforcement dominating the committee.
This also begs question: Where are the drivers on this committee, the ones with real-life, over-the-road experience?
One with more than 20 years experience, over half that time as an independent with an exemplary record, applied and was turned down by FMCSA. Contrast this against the appointment of Steve Owings, who has zero experience in trucking, and it's so ridiculous it would be funny if it weren't true.
The appointment of Owings and more enforcement and public advocacy groups gives the impression the FMCSA is more interested in stacking the committee with a majority who will tell them what they want to hear rather than how trucking will be affected by new rules and regulations.
It's no wonder many people in trucking think it's a joke when the agency publicly says “we're listening” to trucking for feedback on topics from hours of service to mandatory driver training.