Meera Joshi, President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Federal Motor Carrier Administration, may not be waiting much longer to officially take the reins The Senate Commerce Committee in late October voted to forward her nomination to the full Senate, where it’s expected to be confirmed easily. That’s not surprising, given her nomination received the unequivocal support of both the American Trucking Associations and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
(Editor's note: Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, recently threatened to hold all of President Biden's nominees for the departments of Transportation and Commerce until a hearing is held on the supply chain crisis, according to The Hill.)
As administrator, Joshi will bring stability to a regulatory body that has been under a musical-chairs changing of the guard in recent years. She is currently the agency’s acting administrator, a role she has held since April, in addition to her January appointment as FMCSA deputy administrator. For those keeping score, Joshi is the third acting chief since President Trump’s appointee Ray Martinez stepped down two years ago.
More importantly for trucking, Joshi will bring to bear a wealth of experience to her role as the nation’s chief regulator of truck and bus safety. ATA chief Chris Spear stated in a letter to Senate committee members that the trucking lobby “supports her nomination without reservation.” He praised her for having already become “a vital partner to the trucking industry in addressing issues of safety, infrastructure, workforce development, and more,” adding that ATA was “particularly impressed” by her “reliance on data to address real-world needs.”
“CVSA appreciates Ms. Joshi’s extensive experience promoting highway safety,” CVSA Executive Director Collin Mooney said in a statement. “Her time with the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission gives her the experience and exposure necessary to guide FMCSA and work collaboratively with the Alliance.”
A transportation attorney and policy expert, Joshi’s regulatory experience includes serving as chair and CEO of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission. In that post, she led New York City to mandate the reporting of granular trip data from large app operators, which informed major data-driven safety reforms and enforceable pay standards for drivers. Most recently, Joshi was general manager of the New York office of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants.
Joshi’s Senate testimony in a September hearing sent a clear signal of how she will approach the job. “Ensuring the safety of the women and men literally driving the commercial motor vehicle industry and all those that they share the road with is my personal and utmost priority,” she stated.
More specifically, Joshi said she is “deeply committed” to “reversing the fatal trend,” rising since 2009, in commercial motor vehicle-related roadway fatalities. She noted that “every year, over 800 of these victims are large truck or bus drivers.”
Joshi said that as regulatory chief of the NYC taxi fleet, she led pilot programs “to integrate innovative vehicle safety technology, increased the effectiveness of roadway enforcement and inspections, and used data analytics to identify and remove the most dangerous drivers from the road and operators from the industry.”
In replies to questions put to her by committee members, Joshi made other points, including that FMCSA would comply with the requirements of the proposed DRIVE-Safe Act, which was reintroduced this year, to provide certified CDL holders under age 21 with pathways to follow to be allowed to drive trucks on interstate routes.
Asked about the ongoing backup of incoming freight at U.S. ports, Joshi observed that, “The less turn times they [drivers] have, the less money they make.” She added that grasping the detention time issue could lead to creating “financial incentives for shippers and port operators to decrease that time so that the burden doesn’t fall on truckers.”
Joshi also addressed the scourge of distracted driving. Calling it “heartbreaking” because it’s preventable, she stressed that slight changes in behavior can yield great dividends. “It takes a quick decision not to use your phone while you’re driving, to put on the return text message that says, ‘Do not disturb me. I’m driving.’”
This column originally appeared in the November 2021 print issue of Heavy Duty Trucking as the Washington Watch department. It has been edited slightly to reflect developments since the issue went to press.