Meet Scott Darling—a Nominee to Lead FMCSA—Who Wants to Make the Trucking Industry Safer

Pictured: Scott Darling (Via FMCSA)

Pictured: Scott Darling (Via FMCSA)

Recently, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a confirmation hearing to consider the President’s nomination of T.F. Scott Darling, III to serve as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Administrator.

This would be a position that comes with great responsibility if selected. The FMCSA presently oversees over 4 million active commercial drivers’ license holders, more than 12,000 bus companies and 500,000 motor carriers, including trucking companies, household goods movers, and hazardous materials carriers.

Since the FMCSA was established 15 years ago, the number of lives lost in commercial motor vehicle-related crashes has decreased 26 percent. These numbers represent progress, but the sad fact remains that more than 4,000 people die each year in crashes with large truck and buses. If chosen to lead the agency, Darling says he hopes to change that and continue striving to make America’s roadways even safer.

If you’ve not heard of him until now, here’s some background information on a man who’s dedicated his life to public safety:

  • On August 5, 2015, President Obama nominated Darling, III to be the Administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
  • He joined FMCSA in September 2012 upon his appointment by the President as Chief Counsel.
  • He joined the FMCSA from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), the public transit agency serving the greater Boston area, where he served as the Deputy Chief of Staff and Assistant General Counsel.
  • He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from Clark University, a Master’s degree in Public Policy from Tufts University, and a Juris Doctor’s degree from Suffolk University.

During the confirmation hearing, Darling laid out his goals for the future if selected to fulfil the role of the FMCSA’s administrator. They are to:

  • Work to put in place dozens of FAST Act provisions to establish new programs and procedures, create working groups, and conduct research.
  • Streamline the agency’s grant programs to give states increased flexibility to tailor funding to conditions on the ground.
  • Continue taking comments from stakeholders and the public on an incentive program to encourage carriers to adopt cutting edge safety technology and practices.
  • Continue helping the country’s veterans successfully transition out of the military to careers in transportation.

Darling also told the Senate committee that this year’s priorities include addressing the controversial hours of service (HOS) restart, creating a national drug clearing house, proceeding with rulemaking on speed limiters for tractor trailers and looking at a new safety evaluation and rating system.

So far, the committee has not yet voted to confirm Darling. Some have praised him for his quick work in implementing portions of the FAST Act, such as removing CSA scores from public view while the system is being revamped, and encouraged him to continue to work in implementing all aspects of the legislation. A few days ago, Commerce Committee Chairman Jon Thrune told American Trucking Association newspaper Transport Topics that some senators have questions about Darlings “depth of experience.”

In our opinion, Darling would be an excellent choice to head the FMCSA. He is a man who’s proven that he’s dedicated to helping save lives and making the roads Americans drive on less dangerous.

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Semi Driver Arrested for Vehicular Homicide, Under the Influence of Drugs in Washington

Pictured: Image taken from the crash scene (Via Deborah Horne/Twitter)

Pictured: Image taken from the crash scene (Via Deborah Horne/Twitter)

According to troopers with the Washington State Patrol, two people were killed and five injured recently in a serious crash involving eight vehicles that closed westbound I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass for several hours.

When troopers arrived on scene, they found two semi-trucks and six other vehicles had crashed.

Dramatic video footage from the scene showed one smaller car completely smashed between larger vehicles. Troopers placed a yellow tarp over the car. A State Patrol photo also showed a pickup truck on its top against the side of a semi trailer.

Two people, identified as Richard Slightam, 49, and Carmen Lang, 50, died at the scene. Five people were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Authorities say the driver of one of the semi trucks involved in the crash while towing a car hauler was later arrested for investigation of vehicular homicide.

In a report by KING-TV, WSP trooper who is a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) contacted the driver and later determined the driver was under the influence of drugs.

“We had a drug recognition expert interview and evaluate this driver, and through that evaluation it led to calling for a blood warrant and he was placed in custody for investigation of vehicular homicide,” Trooper Rick Johnson told KOMO-TV.

Troopers say they believe the driver of the car carrier was traveling west and lost control before veering across all lanes of traffic and coming to rest in the roadway. This caused a chain-reaction crash that completely blocked all westbound lanes of the freeway.

 

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Is it Safe to Pass a Snow Plow?

At least 17 people, from North Carolina to New York, have already died in the winter blizzard of 2016. However, the U.S. isn’t the only region battling the snow and taking it seriously.

Recently, under Ontario, Canada’s “Highway Traffic Act,” a trucker there was charged with passing a snow plow in an unsafe manner.

It was a motorist who contacted authorities to report that a tractor trailer was being driven in a dangerous way.

Police were able to determine that a plow was working on Hwy. 23 between Monkton and Bornholm, and travelled at a speed of 40 km/h. There were several vehicles behind the plow, including two tractor trailers.

The last tractor trailer pulled out and passed the vehicles behind the plow, forcing the other tractor trailer onto the west shoulder.   The tractor trailer then passed the plow and continued south towards Mitchell.

A short time later, police pulled over the tractor trailer in Mitchell. The driver, a 62-year-old-man from Hanover, was charged with passing when the roadway was not clear.

The “Highway Traffic Act” regulates the classification of traffic offenses, administration of loads, classification of vehicles and other transport related issues.

Our Thoughts

In the United States, while it is not illegal to pass a snow plow, it certainly increases the risk of an accident, especially when on a single lane road in each direction. Along with the snow, other objects can get thrown by the plow which could impact a driver’s ability to see clearly. It’s just not worth the risk.

All drivers, including truckers, must practice responsibility on the road. When the weather conditions are less than ideal, patience is crucial.

If you must pass, you need to be able to do so in a safe manner. Ideally, drivers should be attentive, take their time, drive safely for conditions and avoid passing other vehicles—especially snow plows—when conditions are dangerous. It only increases the chances of an accident occurring.

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FMCSA Launches Online Unified Registration System Aimed at Boosting Safety

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration launched the Unified Registration System (URS), a new, simplified, online registration process. It will be used by truck and bus companies, freight forwarders, brokers, intermodal equipment providers, and cargo tank manufacturing, inspection and repair facilities as part of a requirement for USDOT registration.

What It Will Do

Primarily, the URS strives to do the following:

  • Unify registration data housed in multiple FMCSA systems into one authoritative database, thus reducing the possibility for conflicting registration data between FMCSA systems.
  • Streamline manual processes and combine several forms into one unified online registration form. According to the FMCSA, this will improve efficiency, reduce errors and, most importantly, strengthen safety for the motoring public.

Why You Should Care

When fully implemented in 2016, URS will enable FMCSA to more readily identify unfit carriers and detect unsafe truck and bus companies seeking to evade Agency enforcement actions, including civil penalties, by attempting to regain USDOT registration by registering as a purported different, unrelated business entity.

In a nutshell:

  • FMCSA estimates URS will ultimately reduce costs to industry by approximately $9 million in time saved and fees incurred over a 10-year period.
  • According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), large trucks accounted for 3,964 fatalities in 2013. The new registration process should help reduce those numbers even further.
  • Fatal accidents involving 18-wheelers cost Americans more than $20 billion each year, $13.1 billion of which is the cost associated with loss of quality of life. URS, if properly enacted, should lower those costs.
  • This measure will also improve FMCSA’s ability to locate small and medium-sized private and exempt for-hire motor carriers when enforcement action is necessary.  Working with designated process agents will help FMCSA investigators locate and/or serve documents on hard-to-find motor carriers.

Our Thoughts

It’s important to note that the initial phase of URS will only affect new registrants. Later phases in 2016 will affect all regulated entities.  According to the 2016 phase schedule, additional motor carrier compliance will begin in September.

While we would prefer it be sooner, it’s certainly better late than never. The URS is certainly a welcoming addition in helping promote safety along America’s highways. It is our hope that under the new registration process, fatalities and injuries will be significantly reduced and reckless commercial drivers kept off the roads once and for all.

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Trucking Industry to Benefit from Driverless Car Push

Pictured: Future Truck 2025 (Courtesy: Daimler)

Pictured: Future Truck 2025 (Courtesy: Daimler)

The future of driverless trucks is inching closer to reality. This is largely due, in part, to the aggressive push being made for autonomous cars. According to Wolfgang Bernard with Diamler, by the time federal laws are implemented and regulation is finished, his company will be ready with the first autonomous tractor-trailer. Bernhard made the announcement recently during a press conference after Daimler’s launched production of its Detroit-branded DT12 automated manual transmission in the United States.

Future Truck 2025

Last year, Diamler unveiled its Future Truck 2015 in Magdeburg, Germany. Ultimately, the company hopes to make safer, greener, and more efficient robotic trucks that are also more attractive to prospective drivers.

Based on Mercedes Benz’s previous work on driver assist and autonomous systems for upmarket passenger cars, it allows trucks to operate with complete autonomy on public roads at speeds up to 53 mph.

The Potentials Benefits of ‘Driverless Trucks’

  • Could eliminate the shortage of drivers
  • Better fuel economy
  • New safety systems in place designed to offset common driver issues, such as drowsy driving, that impact road safety.
  • Could allow truckers to take on new roles while still in the cab of a truck
  • Could reduce the number of fatal bus and truck crashes

Critics Skeptical of ‘Driverless Trucks’

Though widespread deployment of autonomous trucks is still a ways off, the seeds have already been planted. To learn more, Software Advice, a company that researches and reviews fleet management software, conducted a survey of 385 adults in the United States to see what people think about this technology. Most people surveyed do not trust these type of vehicles on the ride. Other findings include:

Over two-thirds of survey respondents said they would feel less safe sharing the road with driverless semi-trucks.

  • Women were more likely than men to think that vehicles piloted by driverless technology would be less safe than vehicles operated by human beings.
  • The majority of respondents would be uncomfortable with driverless semi-trucks, even if it meant cheaper consumer products or reduced carbon emissions.

Obstacles Ahead

No shortage of hurdles remains for autonomous truck to hit the highways in numbers. Diamler reps have stated that:

  • Local laws must first take effect, allowing drivers to let go of the steering wheel.
  • The FMCSA will have to implement/write new rules drivers must follow when operating  autonomous trucks

Our Thoughts

While welcome opportunities in technology that promote and increase highway safety, the verdict is still out on autonomous tractor trailers. Before these futuristic semis ever hit the road, they must be 100 percent reliable. Drivers in passenger vehicles must feel confident and unafraid when sharing the road with them.

In theory, driverless vehicles would put personal injury attorneys out of business.  After all, manufacturers tout they will drastically reduce collisions. Fewer collisions mean few civil lawsuits. But, nonetheless, accidents will likely be inevitable—despite the advanced technology.

With that said, what happens when a driverless 18-wheeler kills someone? Robots cannot exactly be charged with a crime. Or less drastically, who pays the ticket when it doesn’t notice a stop sign or traffic light, or when an error sends it the wrong way down a one-way street?

Bottom line, there are still so many unknowns. As robots become more integrated into our every day life and society as a whole, lawmakers will have to wrestle with how to manage machines and hold software accountable.

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How long will FMCSA Keep CSA Scores from Public View?

The FMCSA recently wasted little time in getting rid of Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores from public view after President Obama signed the Highway Transportation Bill into law earlier this month.

“As of Dec. 4, 2015, pursuant to the FAST Act of 2015, much of the information previously available on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) website related to property carrier’s compliance and safety performance will no longer be displayed publicly,” FMCSA said in a statement.

This also applies to information provided to the public through the QCMobile app.

Why the Privacy

The new law requires the FMCSA to now keep the scores private (carriers would have access to their own data) until the agency completes the corrective action plan requirement as listed in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

“While the agency is not prohibited from displaying all of the data, no information will be available for property carriers while appropriate changes are made,” read a statement on FMCSA’s website.

The FAST Act requires that the FMCSA commission a DOT Transportation Research Board to study the accuracy of CSA’s Safety Measurement System in identifying high-risk carriers and predicting future crash risk and severity.

What this Means

State and federal law enforcement personnel, as well as insurers, brokers, freight-forwarders, etc. cannot presently:

  • View safety performance information compared to other motor carriers
  • See whether past safety problems have gotten better or worse
  • Determine which motor carriers who are candidates for intervention

Why this is a Bad Thing

For years, trucking industry groups have argued that FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability scores don’t accurately reflect a carrier’s accident risk. However, we disagree.  We believe that this new piece of legislation gives trucking companies who act reckless on the highways an extended opportunity to ignore safety regulations.

Not only that, but making CSA scores private also:

  • Threatens the safety of every person in the USA of driving age
  • Hurts good trucking companies who abide by the rules
  • Makes it harder for load brokers or shippers to select safe trucking companies to haul their property loads

What Needs to Happen

Violation information should be made public again, just not the CSA scores that show a motor carrier’s relative ranking compared to other carriers of similar size and type. It is the hope of the safety advocacy community that violation information access is restored in the first quarter of 2016. This information should also remain available through FOIA requests, although it is not yet certain how FOIA requests will be impacted.

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FMCSA Proposes New Rule for Determining Safety Fitness of Motor Carriers

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced a rulemaking proposal designed to enhance the agency’s ability to identify non-compliant motor carriers.

What it is

The Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) would update FMCSA’s safety fitness rating methodology by integrating on-road safety data from inspections, along with the results of carrier investigations and crash reports, to determine a motor carrier’s overall safety fitness on a monthly basis.

“Ensuring that motor carriers are operating safely on our nation’s roadways is one of our highest priorities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Using all available information to achieve more timely assessments will allow us to better identify unsafe companies and get them off the road.”

How it will help

The proposed rule will help to make the roadways safer in a variety of ways:

  • It will help the agency focus on carriers with a higher crash risk
  • Carriers identified as unfit to operate will be removed from the roadways until they improve.

The proposed SFD rule would replace the current three-tier federal rating system of “satisfactory–conditional–unsatisfactory” for federally regulated commercial motor carriers (in place since 1982) with a single determination of “unfit,” which would require the carrier to either improve its operations or cease operations.

Once in place, the SFD rule will permit FMCSA to assess the safety fitness of approximately 75,000 companies a month. By comparison, the agency is only able to investigate 15,000 motor carriers annually – with less than half of those companies receiving a safety rating.

How “bad” motor carriers are identified

The proposed methodology would determine when a carrier is not fit to operate commercial motor vehicles in or affecting interstate commerce based on:

  • the carrier’s performance in relation to a fixed failure threshold established in the rule for five of the agency’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs)
  • investigation results
  • or a combination of on-road safety data and investigation information.

When assessing roadside inspection data results, the proposal uses a minimum of 11 inspections with violations in a single BASIC within a 24-month period before a motor carrier could be eligible to be identified as “unfit.” If a carrier’s individual performance meets or exceeds the failure standards in the rule, it would then fail that BASIC. The failure standard will be fixed by the rule. A carrier’s status in relation to that fixed measure would not be affected by other carriers’ performance.

Failure of a BASIC based on either crash data or compliance with drug and alcohol requirements would only occur following a comprehensive investigation.

FMCSA estimates that under this proposal, less than 300 motor carriers each year would be proposed as “unfit” solely as a result of on-road safety violations. Further, the agency’s analysis has shown that the carriers identified through this on-road safety data have crash rates of almost four times the national average.

Comments sought

The FMCSA is encouraging the public to review the NPRM and to submit comments and evidentiary materials to the docket following its publication in the Federal Register. The public comment period will be open for 60 days. To learn more, click here.

 

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FMCSA Reduces Drug Testing Rate by 25 Percent

Last month, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration announced it will lower the 2016 minimum random drug testing rate for commercial drivers’ license holders to 25% from 50% annually. The new rule took effect on January 1st of this year.

Under a long-standing provision in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, FMCSA can choose to lower the minimum annual percentage rates for random testing to 25% percent when the industry violation rate for random drug tests is less than 1.0% for two consecutive years.

The Background

In accordance with 49 CFR 382.403, each calendar year FMCSA requires selected motor carriers participating in a special survey that required them to submit their DOT drug and alcohol testing program results.

The survey requires motor carriers to provide information to the Agency on the number of random tests conducted and the corresponding positive rates.

For the 2013 survey, notices were sent out to 3,251 randomly selected motor carriers primarily via email and U.S. mail for those motor carriers with invalid or no email addresses.

The Results

The estimated positive random controlled substance test rate in 2013 was 0.7percent. The 95 percent confidence interval for this estimate ranged from 0.6-0.8 percent.

For 2011 and 2012, the estimated positive usage rate for drugs was estimated to be 0.9 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively.

For calendar year 2015, in order to ensure reliability of the data, the FMCSA Administrator made the decision to maintain the annual testing percentage rate at 50 percent and sought additional information related to drivers’ positive test rates.

Following a third consecutive calendar year of data reporting the positive rate below 1.0 percent, FMCSA announced that the random controlled substances annual percentage testing rate would change from 50 percent to 25 percent.

The Impact

According to the FMCSA, this updated change will result in an estimated $50 million in annual savings to motor carriers by requiring that fewer drivers be tested. Carriers can continue to test at a higher rate if they so choose. The impact on safety is unknown.

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18-Wheeler Crashes into South Carolina Burger King

According to North Augusta, South Carolina Public Safety Officers, an 18-wheeler crashed into a local Burger King as restaurant employees were preparing to serve breakfast to customers recently. Fortunately, no one was injured during the crash.

Authorities say the trucker, Kenneth Sanderson, 68, was traveling on Knox Avenue in North Augusta when he lost control of his 18-wheeler.

The truck reportedly went through an intersection, knocked down trees, and sideswiped the restaurant’s sign before crashing into the side of the restaurant.

Sanderson was reportedly taken to a nearby hospital for a medical evaluation but he’s expected to make a full recover. The estimated cost in damage to the restaurant is still unknown at this time.

Police say the driver will not be charged but did not elaborate further.

“It’s an unfortunate incident but no charges will be filed,” North Augusta Lt. Tim Thornton told a local media outlet. “Sanderson simply lost control of the vehicle.”

Police said the restaurant had not yet opened when the accident occurred. There were a few employees in the back preparing food when the crash took place.

“It’s extremely fortunate that no one was seriously injured,” Thornton told the media. “We’re just very thankful everyone’s OK.”

The Burger King will be closed for business until further notice.

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What’s next for the Wal-Mart driver indicted in the Tracy Morgan crash?

Tracy Morgan

Pictured: Tracy Morgan (Via Wikimedia Commons)

The Wal-mart trucker involved in last year’s deadly crash on the New Jersey Turnpike that severely injured SNL alumni and comedian Tracy Morgan has been indicted on criminal charges.

The driver, Kevin Roper, has been charged with aggravated manslaughter, vehicular homicide as well as eight counts of aggravated assault.

In early-June 2014, authorities say he crashed his 18-wheeler into Morgan’s limo fan, killing his friend and fellow comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair. The crash left Morgan in a coma for two week, and he also suffered multiple broken bones and serious brain injury.

Trucker’s Attorney: “My client’s rights have been compromised.”

Roper’s attorney, David Jay Glassman, recently told CNN that the prosecutor in the case has corrupted his client’s right to due process and doubts that the indictment will stand.

The prosecutor “ran out of opportunities to corrupt the defendant’s right to due process and finally elected to present the matter to the grand jury which surprisingly after over a year of continuous negative publicity, returned an indictment,” Glassman stated.

Morgan and some of the others who were injured reached a settlement with Wal-Mart in May, although terms have not been made public.

NTSB Investigation Results

Federal investigators found that the injuries to Morgan and other passengers were made worse by their failure to wear seat belts. The board faulted Morgan and other passengers for also adjusting headrests.

An NTSB investigation concluded in August that Roper hadn’t slept in the 28 hours before the crash, a finding Roper’s attorney has disputed.

The report also determined that Glassman’s client failed to slow down immediately before the crash despite posted warning signs on the turnpike.

What’s Next

Roper’s attorney recently told The Associated Press he will ask a judge in Middlesex County, New Jersey to dismiss the case because his client is unable to get a fair trial because of negative publicity surrounding Morgan’s federal lawsuit against Wal-Mart.

If convicted, Roper can face up to 30 years for the aggravated manslaughter charge alone, while a death-by-auto charge carries a five-to-10-year prison sentence. Each assault-by-auto charge is punishable by up to 18 months in prison.

Our Thoughts

We disagree with Glassman’s attempt to dismiss the case due to the “negative publicity” it’s received and its “high-profile nature.” A judge and jury will view this case no differently than any other criminal case—no matter who the key players are involved, celebrity or not. At the end of the day, the evidence will speak for itself. If, in fact, the prosecution can prove Roper hadn’t slept in 28 hours and was also speeding, he should be held criminally responsible and face the consequences.

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