Norman Mineta has added a new wrinkle to the debate over truck safety. The former congressman yesterday proposed yet another solution to the federal government's performance problem: Give safety and highways equal status in the same office in the Department of Transportation.

Right now, safety is subordinate to highways within the Federal Highway Administration. Mineta recommended formation of a Federal Highway and Motor Carrier Safety Administration. There would be one administrator running the whole thing, with a deputy for highways and a deputy for safety.
This structure would "clearly establish the importance of motor carrier safety within DOT," Mineta told the House Ground Transportation Committee at a hearing yesterday. Plus, he said, it would be much less expensive and disruptive than creating a separate Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Mineta, whose analysis of DOT's safety program was requested by Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, is recommending a middle path that may wind up gathering support on Capitol Hill.
The most conservative approach suggested so far in the quest to improve truck safety is Slater's, who this week proposed that safety remain where it is. (See "Slater Acts to Keep OMCHS Where It Is," Also on the table are a proposal to create a separate Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is supported by trucking industry groups, and a proposal to move safety into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is supported by Rep. Frank Wolf, R-VA, and safety advocacy groups.
In addition to organizational changes, Mineta is recommending tougher enforcement and entry requirements. He said the new chief of the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety, Julie Cirillo, has a clear understanding of the issues and is taking decisive action. Here are his key items:
· Increase the number of safety compliance reviews (already under way at OMCHS).
· Give the states more money for enforcement.
· Increase roadside inspections.
· Improve the motor carrier safety hotline.
· Bring shippers and receivers into the safety program by extending regulations and enforcement to activities such as loading and unloading, and scheduling.
· Add at least 50 new federal inspectors to Mexican border crossings.
· Improve DOT's rulemaking process by setting priorities, schedules and accountability.
· Add at least 12 staff to DOT's rulemaking office.
· Find a better way to handle complex rules — perhaps by splitting them into more workable parts.
· Improve safety data and information by giving states the resources they need to collect and upload crash reports.
· Fund and complete an in-depth crash causation study — as soon as possible.
· Create a comprehensive safety fitness program for new truckers by the end of the year.
· Use third parties to help assess safety fitness and train new truckers.
· Establish minimum driver training criteria, coupled with a commercial driver's learner permit and on-the-road apprentice training.
· Give high priority to crash-avoidance technologies.
· Use innovative financing techniques to ensure there are enough roadside rest areas.