The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, which Congress passed last month, contains a number of provisions aimed at closing loopholes in the federal data system that officials use to screen scofflaws from law-abiding truckers. For details on other provisions of the bill, see Truck Safety Gets a Seat at the Table.
Inspectors need to get better at targeting because they do not have – and never will have – the resources to keep tab on every single trucker. The idea, as it was explained during truck safety hearings earlier this year, is to give inspectors the information they need to apply their efforts where they will do the most good. That is, on the relatively small segment of the industry that repeatedly breaks the rules and dodges the enforcers.
Bill-writers in the House and Senate handled this issue by picking up the recommendations of the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General, Kenneth Mead. Mead’s critical analysis of DOT’s truck and bus safety program found that the Office of Motor Carrier Safety needs better data on how truckers are performing, as well as fundamental information about the causes of accidents.
Here’s what the bill calls for:
* All truckers will have to file a Motor Carrier Identification Report (Form MCS-150), listing their trucks and drivers, within a year of when President Clinton signs the bill. From then on, everyone has to update that information at least every two years.
The intention here is to get a more accurate count of basic industry numbers. DOT’s Mead found that in 1998 the motor carrier census showed 126,455 companies with no vehicles and/or no drivers.
* States will be given funding incentives to do a better job of reporting on accidents, inspections and traffic violations – the key information in DOT’s Safety Status Measurement System (SafeStat). States that do not do a better job will lose funds.
* Train local enforcement personnel to properly fill out reports on accidents, inspections and traffic violations.
* Standardize accident data requirements and collection procedures, so that DOT agencies such as OMCS and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can more easily share their information.
Congress also charged DOT with undertaking a comprehensive study of the causes of accidents. The aim is to build a database that can be used to evaluate individual accidents and accident trends, identify causes and contributing factors, and develop ways to prevent accidents. The lead agency in the study will be NHTSA.
In another study, DOT must determine if drug test reviewers or employers should report positive results on CDL drivers to the state that issued the license. This study also must determine if employers should be required to ask the state that issued a job applicant’s CDL if the driver had used illegal drugs. The department will have two years to complete this study.