The government's truck safety agency is moving quickly to revitalize a regulatory program that many consider to be seriously flawed.

The Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety is proposing a three-year safety action plan that will toughen existing truck safety regulations and accelerate rules that have been stuck in the slow lane.
Under the draft strategic plan, a copy of which has been obtained by Newport Communications, OMCHS would get a lot tougher on unsafe companies. The agency plans to refine its SafeStat system for identifying high-risk companies, develop uniform enforcement policies in each state, increase the number of compliance reviews and find new ways to identify unsafe operations — including using reports from drivers.
The draft plan outlines initiatives OMCHS wants to take in five areas: trucking companies; drivers; trucks and cargo; highways; and international borders.
Here's some of what the agency is considering:
· Tighten up communications among states, trucking companies and the agency by getting most states plugged into an integrated national information network by 2003. The network, called Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks, allows different systems to exchange information and gives enforcement officials access to current safety information.
· Establish a new, online system to replace the current carrier registration system — by next year.
· Evaluate the idea of using third parties to collect safety information — by next year.
· Toughen penalties for breaking the rules by adopting the penalty provisions of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century — this year.
· Expand the computer system used to link the vehicle and licensing processes of the states with federal and state enforcement programs — by 2003. The system is called Performance and Registration Information Systems Management.
· Work with everyone in the highway community, including trucking companies, to develop information systems that will help explain why crashes happen, and prevent them — by 2003.
· Reduce the number of problem drivers by helping states get quick and accurate reports on driver offenses — by 2003.
· Improve the commercial driver license by explaining the program to judges, prosecutors and police, and work on improving the CDL knowledge and skills test — by next year.
· Determine if global positioning systems are as accurate as onboard recorders for tracking driver hours of service — by 2001.
· Issue new hours-of-service regulations that will begin transformation of the current system into a performance-based program that addresses driver alertness and fitness for duty — by next year.
· Do something about providing adequate highway rest areas for drivers. OMCHS proposes holding a national Rest Area Forum this spring to outline an action plan. A final report is due to Congress by 2001.
· Develop training to encourage driver "wellness" — this year.
· Continue research on driver fatigue, focusing on work-rest cycles and crash rates by time of day — by July. Also, begin research on scheduling practices, local-driver fatigue, sleeper berths and the role of shipper demands in fatigue — by 2001.
· Accelerate research into the use of technology measuring driver alertness, as well as electronic brakes and onboard hazard warning devices — by next year.
· Develop a plan for improving CDL effectiveness — by the end of this year.
· Make international safety regulations more compatible by helping Mexico to develop and publish minimum standards, including hours-of-service rules and log books — by 2001.
· Increase enforcement and compliance at the Mexican border by adding inspection personnel and other measures — this year.