Next steps for truck safety should be completion of the speed limiter mandate, more focus on traffic enforcement and improvements in the CSA safety enforcement system, a top Werner Enterprises official told a transportation panel of the Senate Commerce Committee.
Safety also would improve if carriers had incentives to install technologies such as forward collision warning and if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration finished a driver training rule, said Werner Executive Vice President Jim Mullen.
Mullen testified Thursday on behalf of American Trucking Associations at a hearing launching the Commerce Committee’s effort to draft the safety title of the next highway bill. The bill is due before the current program expires at the end of May.
“The trucking industry is justifiably proud of its commitment to safety,” Mullen told members of the Surface Transportation Subcommittee.
Werner, one of the five largest truckload carriers in the country, spends $40 million a year on safety, Mullen said. Some of that is to meet regulatory requirements but much goes to voluntary investments such as forward collision warning and lane departure warning, he said.
Werner has cut its preventable accidents by 22% over the past seven years, Mullen said. He attributed the gain to the company’s use of driver training simulators, onboard devices to track critical events and predictive modeling, as well as the crash prevention technologies.
Mullen cited the pending electronic logging mandate as an example of how FMCSA rules can improve safety, but he slammed the agency for slow action on the speed limiter rule and what he described as an overemphasis on roadside inspections versus traffic enforcement.
ATA has been pushing FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for mandatory speed limiters on heavy trucks since 2006. The agencies have a proposal that is due to be published in May.
Mullen intimated that FMCSA has fallen behind on this rule because it spends its energy on political concerns.
“The industry and FMCSA must work together to focus on efforts that have a direct impact on driver safety, as opposed to issues that may be driven by political or economic issues,” he said in his testimony.
He later said the 34-hour restart is an example of a politically driven rule, although he did not say why that might be true. ATA for its part used political means to change the rule, convincing Congress to force the agency to suspend the provision while it conducts more research.
FMCSA was not a witness at the hearing but has strongly defended the restart as science-based rule that will improve driver safety and health.
Mullen said it will be important for Congress to monitor the agency’s research on the suspended restart rule.
He also presented ATA’s case for less emphasis on roadside inspections and more on traffic enforcement, which the association says is a more effective way to prevent crashes.
He said the agency’s recent move to start training police in truck traffic enforcement is flawed and inadequate.
“The training of non-CMV enforcement personnel appears to be an attempt to deflect the criticism of FMCSA’s management of its (commercial vehicle) enforcement program,” Mullen said in his testimony. The agency has not put more money into traffic enforcement, he said.
The enforcement community, represented by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, did not testify but has held that while traffic enforcement is effective it needs to be part of a comprehensive program that includes roadside inspections.
Mullen reiterated ATA’s support for the objectives of the CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) program, as well as the association’s complaints about some of the operational details.
The data in the system is neither complete nor reliable, and it should not be available to the public, he said.
And the agency’s use of all crashes to measure safety performance, whether or not the carrier is at fault, needs to change, he said.
The agency’s recent finding that the costs of determining fault outweigh the benefits only clouds the issue, Mullen said.
He called on the committee to force the agency to set up a system to remove crashes that plainly are not the carrier’s fault.