Police and roadside inspectors are calling for changes in how the Department of Transportation administers the truck safety program.
At a hearing Tuesday before the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, Thomas Fuller, a sergeant in the New York State Police, outlined what the enforcement community wants in the next highway bill.
Fuller, speaking for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance representing state, provincial and federal truck safety officers, said the current program works well but needs some improvements.
He explained that federal support for truck safety enforcement is delivered through the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, run by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The states use the money to pay and train some 12,000 enforcement officers, buy the equipment they need, update their software and conduct outreach programs, he said. The officers do more than 3.4 million roadside inspections each year, and conduct 34,000 new entrant safety audits and 6,000 compliance reviews.
“The good news is that the program works,” Fuller said. “Every dollar invested in the state programs yields a big return for taxpayers.”
But the program needs to be more flexible, he said.
FMCSA should refrain from being too specific when it spells out how the money should be spent. The agency should issue broad goals and parameters, and let the states decide how best to achieve those aims, he said.
An example: the enforcement community wants the agency to ease a funding restriction on traffic enforcement.
“CVSA supports increasing the funding cap on traffic enforcement activities not associated with an inspection from 5% to 10%,” he said.
“This will allow states to allocate their resources as they see fit, giving them additional flexibility to address state-wide or regional issues, such as speeding or aggressive driving, more effectively.”
CVSA also wants the agency to streamline its grant management process, Fuller said.
The procedures states must follow for filing an annual Commercial Vehicle Safety Plan are cumbersome, he said. And the agency needs to get more consistent in how it administers the program from state to state.
Another problem is that as regulations and business practices change over time, inconsistencies in the regulatory framework emerge.
“These inconsistencies can lead to confusion among both the regulated and enforcement communities,” Fuller said.
The solution is to require the agency to do full review of the rules every five years, with a view to reduce, enhance and streamline as necessary.
Fuller added that this process would be particularly useful in dealing with the regulatory exemptions that crop up over time, particularly those that are driven by pressure on Congress rather than through the rulemaking process.
And it is essential that Congress make sure the program is properly funded, Fuller said.
“The MCSAP will only continue to be successful if it is adequately funded. New and expanded responsibilities mean improvements in safety, but only in so much as the states are able to effectively implement those policies,” he said.
An example is the agency’s DataQs program, which carriers use to correct mistakes in their safety scores under the Compliance Safety Accountability program.
“While FMCSA has tasked the states with reviewing and validating DataQs challenges, no additional funding has been provided.”
CVSA wants Congress to increase the program’s resources by bumping the federal-state funding match from 80%-20% to 90%-10%.
If it’s not possible to put more money into the program, Congress should at least ensure that the funding level is not cut, he said.
“When states see a reduction in their MCSAP funding, resulting in jobs lost, their programs are reduced and fewer inspections, compliance reviews, and safety audits are conducted, reducing the safety benefit of such activities.”
The hearing was one of a series that will take place over the coming months as Congress drafts legislation to reauthorize the federal highway program. House leaders have said they want a bill to the floor by August.