Like most other federal agencies, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is still waiting for President Trump to nominate an Administrator to lead its operations. For the moment, the main government agency responsible for maintaining the safety of the nation’s interstate trucking system is headed by a holdover deputy administrator.
In the meantime, the FMCSA has backed away from several rulemaking initiatives held over from the Obama administration, and the agency is under heavy industry pressure to relax or eliminate a number of safety regulations. How will truck safety be affected in the years to come?
The current trend has been running in the wrong direction for several years. While fatal crashes involving large trucks or buses declined by 34 percent from 2005 to 2009, they’ve climbed by 20 percent between 2009 and 2015. Especially problematic is the single-year increase of 5 percent in fatal accidents in 2015 over 2014.
Despite the recent increase of heavy-duty vehicle crash fatalities, industry advocates have renewed their request for raising the standard weight limit for semi tractor-trailer combinations from the current 80,000 pounds to 91,000 pounds. Similarly, many trucking companies would like to see standard trailer size increase from 28 feet to 33 feet. Efficiency and increased productivity are cited as the main reasons for these regulatory requests, while opponents point to additional strain on substandard bridges and roads as a sound basis for rejecting them.
Government Regulators Abandon Effort to Increase Insurance Coverage Minimums
The FMCSA recently abandoned a rulemaking procedure for raising liability insurance minimums that had been working its way through the system since late 2014. Minimum insurance requirements have not been raised since 1985, when the current coverage minimums were established: at least $750,000 for general freight, $5 million for the most dangerous hazardous freight, and $1 million for other hazardous freight.
The agency has also suspended rulemaking activity in two different areas: annual inspections of passenger carrier vehicles — that is, interstate buses — and operator fitness standards. One regulation that apparently remains unaffected by the new administration concerns the upcoming transition to electronic logging devices, or ELDs. Nonexempt owners and operators must comply by December 2017 with the new requirement to convert paper driver’s logs to onboard data recording systems.
Until a new Administrator is nominated and confirmed to define the priorities and performance of the FMCSA, it is impossible to say just how the agency will protect the driving public while recognizing the legitimate needs of the trucking industry’s various stakeholders. For the moment, the agency is bound by the administration’s executive orders that discourage new regulation while finding ways to reduce or eliminate bureaucracy and unnecessary government interference with free markets.
Going forward, however, it seems unlikely that the FMCSA will be able to resist the trend toward deregulation without making the recent unfavorable trends in U.S. trucking safety even worse.