The Office of Motor Carriers got knocked around on Capitol Hill yesterday as Rep. Frank Wolf and others took the agency to task for shortcomings in its enforcement of truck safety rules.

Wolf, the Virginia Republican who says OMC has had an “incestuous” relationship with the trucking industry, chaired a day-long hearing in which witnesses from the trucking industry, safety groups and federal agencies, among others, talked about OMC’s performance and what can be done to improve truck safety.
Citing statistics showing that the number of deaths in truck accidents is on the rise, Wolf asked witnesses if they thought OMC has been doing its job. The answer was “no” — although several witnesses pointed out that the fatality rate per million miles of travel remains level as the number of trucks and their mileage go up.
Even OMC staff have a low opinion of the agency’s effectiveness. Kenneth Mead, the inspector general of the Department of Transportation, said that almost half of OMC’s safety investigators and field supervisors responding to a survey rated the agency’s enforcement program as poor to fair. Slightly more than half of those polled rated the agency’s performance as good to excellent.
This hearing, with its 16 witnesses from safety groups, government and industry, was the second in a series on what to do about OMC. Wolf said he is open to ideas about where OMC should be located on the DOT organization chart, although he continues to believe that a move to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration makes sense. Witnesses from the trucking industry pressed for creation of a Federal Trucking Administration to oversee all trucking activities. Other witnesses called for more inspections, tougher penalties and mandated safety devices such as collision-avoidance radar and on-board recorders.
All agreed that there are no obvious and simple solutions, but the hearing did show that the status quo is not acceptable. The audit now being conducted by Mead will be key to OMC’s fate — but Mead made it clear that he believes OMC needs a new mission altogether. And the testimony of two women who lost children in truck accidents, Daphne Izer of Parents Against Tired Truckers and Bonnie Pierce, underscored the urgency of the problem with the personal grief that underlies the statistics.