On June 4, President Obama nominated Anne Ferro, president of Maryland Motor Truck Association, Inc., to head the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) . Ferro is widely regarded as a skilled and intelligent administrator with a solid record of advocating for driver safety. In its press release announcing Ferro’s nomination, the White House cited Ferro’s “strong record in highway safety” and went on to state, “[Ferro] has extensive experience in driver and vehicle safety, having led the agency’s efforts to establish a graduated licensing program for new drivers in Maryland, as well as a model for older driver research.” Support for Ferro is broad and her confirmation by the Senate seems likely; however, there is opposition to Ferro’s nomination.
In a letter to President Obama signed by International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), General President Jim Hoffa, and coalition partners Truck Safety Coalition (TSC), Executive Director John Lannen, Parents Against Tired Truckers (PATT) Founder Daphne Izer, and Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Board Member and Director Jennifer Tierney, the FMCSA is taken to task for “[failure] to meet its statutory mission of making safety its highest priority.” The letter notes that 5,000 people are killed and 110,000 are injured each year in crashes involving commercial vehicles, an indication, the letter says, that “ineffective leadership at the agency and efforts by the trucking industry to stymie and oppose programs, policies and regulations to promote the health and safety of truck drivers and the motoring public” have contributed to a lack of progress in the reduction of those injuries and deaths. The letter calls Ferro “an apologist for the failure of FMCSA to improve the safety record of commercial vehicles” citing her continued active public support of a Bush Administration Hours of Service (HOS) rule, which permits commercial truck drivers to work longer hours, and which was remanded to the agency for revision on two separate occasions by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The truth is, the current HOS rule is not effective in helping prevent truck accidents. The longer hours permitted under the rule combined with the delivery time pressures commercial truck drivers often face only serves to increase the likelihood of big rig wrecks. (See my previous blog entry “Newest Challenge to FMSCA Hours of Service Rules” for a more detailed discussion of the current HOS rule) Yet Ferro continues to support the rule. In a January 10, 2009 letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun, she argued that changing the HOS rule “would make our highways less safe and would cost lives.” I disagree. In my work as a truck accident lawyer, I have seen many cases involving driver fatigue and in my view the current HOS rules only serve to exacerbate the risk posed to the driving public by tired truck drivers. The bottom line is: the rules should be improved.
The nomination of Ferro comes at a crucial moment, as the next FMCSA head will face numerous significant challenges. The battle over hours-of-service regulations is ongoing as is a dispute between the United States and Mexico over cross-border trucking. New rules regarding electronic onboard recorders that replace paper driver logs are controversial as are proposed regulations governing the establishment of commercial truck drivers’ drug and alcohol testing databases. Perhaps most significant is the impending battle over the highway safety legislation that will be before Congress this summer. The new head of the FMCSA will play a role in all of these issues and Ferro’s history of supporting trucking industry positions on issues of safety is troubling in that regard.
The FMCSA is charged with reducing truck crashes and the injuries and deaths that result from those crashes. It is important for the safety of everyone who travels America’s roadways that the head of that agency has safety as her top priority.