Robin Hutcheson is leaving as head of FMCSA. Sue Lawless will step up to lead the agency. - HDT Graphic

Robin Hutcheson is leaving as head of FMCSA. Sue Lawless will step up to lead the agency.

HDT Graphic

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator Robin Hutcheson is leaving after two years heading up the agency, following the departure earlier this month of Deputy Administrator Earl Adams Jr.

Hutcheson will leave on Jan. 26. Sue Lawless, FMCSA executive director and chief safety officer, will serve as acting deputy administrator and lead the agency.

Lawless just four months ago was named assistant administrator and chief safety officer, replacing Jack Van Steenburg, who retired last year after 15 years with FMCSA. Prior to that, Lawless was the director of FMCSA’s Motor Carrier, Driver, and Vehicle Standards Division.

Under Hutcheson, FMCSA has been moving forward on several initiatives, some of them controversial, including its Safety Fitness Determination rulemaking, an overhaul to its Safety Measurement System, a potential speed limiter rule, and a potential rule mandating automatic emergency braking systems.

During a House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee subcommittee hearing last month, Republican members grilled Hutcheson on the speed limiter and AEB proposals. Rep. Troy E. Nehls, a Republican from Texas, asked pointed questions about whether Hutcheson was too closely tied to some industry stakeholders and not paying enough attention to truck drivers.

Industry Reaction

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear in a statement praised Hutcheson for leading FMCSA "through a critical time as the pandemic, natural disasters, workforce shortages and supply chain disruptions challenged the freight economy in ways never seen before.

"America’s trucking industry is the heartbeat of this nation, and we depend on partners in government like Administrator Hutcheson who value data and stakeholder input to meet real-world needs and ensure the safe movement of freight across our nation’s highways. We applaud her communication, transparency and commitment to ATA and our members, and we wish her well in her future endeavors."

However, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association pointed to Hutcheson's exchange with Rep. Nehls last month regarding a potential speed limiter rule.

Nehls pointed to a September flub by the agency, when a DOT report on significant rulemakings indicated the agency would propose a 68-mph limit on trucks made after model year 2003. That was quickly pulled back and blamed on a clerical error. During the hearling, Nehls said Hutcheson the same week was a keynote speaker at a high-dollar fundraiser "sponsored by labor unions, trial attorneys, large trucking companies," stakeholders he said that had been pressuring FMCSA to set a 60-mph limit. "Were these two occurrences connected in any way?"

Hutcheson responded, "We have not yet set a speed limit. We have not yet issued an NPRM in which that speed limit would be suggested." She also said, "We take very seriously the fidelity of the process of rulemaking, and we don't discuss the contents of the rule, even as we're engaging with our stakeholders."

3 Years With FMCSA

Hutcheson ends a three-year tenure in the Biden-Harris Administration, serving first as the deputy assistant secretary for safety policy within the Office of the Secretary and then as FMCSA administrator.

She became interim administrator after deputy administrator Meera Joshi, who was acting administrator and had been nominated to head the agency, in late 2021 announced she was leaving the administration to accept a position as a deputy mayor of New York City.

Hutcheson was confirmed by the Senate in the fall of 2022 after serving as interim administrator after Joshi’s departure and sworn in just a year ago.

According to a news release from FMCSA, her milestone achievements include:

  • Combatting the COVID-19 pandemic on air and ground transportation.
  • Leading the development of the National Roadway Safety Strategy.
  • Developing key components of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and helping to secure billions in funding – including for the Safe Streets for All program.

“Hutcheson was a fierce champion for women in the transportation industry and a committed partner to stakeholders,” the agency said.

“It has been the most profound honor to serve in the Biden-Harris Administration, and I am grateful to President Biden for appointing me to these roles,” Hutcheson said in a statement. “I thank Secretary Buttigieg for his leadership and confidence and recognize the dedicated team of professionals at the Department of Transportation who work hand in hand with industry partners to serve the American people and keep our country moving forward.”

Updated 12:50 EST to add industry reaction.

About the author
Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

Editor and Associate Publisher

Reporting on trucking since 1990, Deborah is known for her award-winning magazine editorials and in-depth features on diverse issues, from the driver shortage to maintenance to rapidly changing technology.

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