Congress has ordered the Department of Transportation to make all newcomer truckers prove they understand the safety rules. And all new operations will have to undergo a safety inspection within 18 months of opening their doors.
These are just two of dozens of changes in the federal truck and bus safety program contained in the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, which Congress passed November 19. The most dramatic change is creation of a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which for the first time puts trucks and buses at the same organizational level in DOT as the other transportation modes (see previous story). President Clinton is expected to sign the bill.
The idea of requiring newcomers to prove that they know the rules was promoted to Congress by Rita Bontz of the Independent Truckers and Drivers Assn. In testimony to the House Transportation Committee last spring, she cited studies showing that new truckers have higher crash rates and lower compliance with the rules.
The bill-writers heeded Bontz and others. They ordered DOT to draft a rule that establishes minimum requirements for would-be truckers, to make sure they understand the safety rules.
In addition, Congress told DOT to make sure that everyone who is granted a new operating authority gets a visit from a safety inspector within the first 18 months of opening for business. The trucker would be considered a “new entrant” until the review is done.
This and other provisions of the bill mean DOT is going to have to conduct more safety inspections, but it has not had the staff to keep up with current requirements.
The solution in the bill – an idea pressed by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, among others – is to use private contractors to relieve some of the burden.
Once the bill is signed, DOT will have a year to finish a rulemaking to improve training and certification for safety auditors, including private contractors. The contractors will not be able to issue safety ratings or operating authority – that job still belongs to DOT – but they will take some of the work off the staff auditors.
Tomorrow: Making Enforcement More Effective