Today on our highways and interstates there are hundreds of thousands of large commercial trucks and buses that provide cross-country transportation for goods and people. A significant part of the amount of traffic, they are also a significant part of traffic safety. In 2009 alone, over 3,600 people in the United States died and another 93,000 people suffered injuries as a result of a crash involving one of these large commercial trucks and buses.
It is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that is charged with monitoring and improving the safety of these motor carriers. In 2004 the FMCSA rolled out a new program aimed at doing just that. Called the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program, the safety program was aimed at making government oversight of motor carriers more efficient and accurate in identifying and targeting safety issues. Specifically, the safety program was aimed at three activities: (1) a new data collection system to better identify at-risk carriers; (2) a wider range of interventions to reach out to at-risk carriers; and (3) using the new data and interventions to suspend unfit carriers and drivers.
In September, the Government Accountability Office has issued a report on how the CSA program is working and what safety initiatives are still lacking. While the report notes that the FMCSA has been able to implement the first two of its three stated objectives, the third objective—actually getting unfit carriers off the road—has yet to be achieved. Part of the problem is a lack of rulemaking within the FMCSA which would allow them to do that. The agency is already two years behind schedule in creating those rules and still doesn’t anticipate having them ready until possibly 2013. In the meantime, this means that unsafe operators are still functioning on our roads.
In addition, the FMSCA to date has not yet been able to assign safety fitness determinations to individual drivers that would make sure unsafe drivers aren’t allowed behind the wheel of trucks and buses. A plan for when and how to determine a driver’s fitness is yet to be developed.
In light of its review of the program, the Government Accountability Office has made a couple of very specific recommendations: to develop a plan for implementing driver fitness ratings and to require the FMCSA to regularly report to Congress on its activities related to the CSA program.
With 500,000 motor carriers traveling on our highways every day, it is crucial to make sure that they are operating safely and that the driver’s behind the wheel have a clean safety record. While the CSA program seems to be a step in the right direction, significant oversight—and then action—is still needed.