Are Safety Rating Appeals Extensions History?

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DOT Safety Regulation Update Fast-Fax™
Week of June 6, 2011
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After a deadly accident involving a carrier appealing an unsatisfactory safety rating, DOT head LaHood calls for an end to appeals extensions for unsafe bus companies. Recent calls to Foley’s audit support team indicate that FMCSA may also be ending extensions for other types of carriers.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) have been aggressively targeting unsafe passenger carriers in recent months. Their tactics, which include roadside inspections and full-blown compliance reviews, have removed hundreds of unsafe drivers and vehicles from the road in a relatively short time. Just last week DOT Secretary Ray LaHood upped the ante by ordering FMCSA to end the practice of appeals extensions for passenger carriers.

A Deadly Crash

The order was handed down hours after a fatal Sky Express bus crash on Interstate 95 in Fredericksburg, Va. Four passengers were killed and dozens injured when the tour bus crashed and flipped over in the early morning hours of May 31. Shortly after the crash, FMCSA announced that Sky Express was being placed out-of-service for an unsatisfactory rating following a compliance review.

Subsequent news reports revealed that Sky Express would have been shut down the Saturday before the crash if FMCSA had not given the company extra time to appeal the unsatisfactory rating. The company was operating under a 10-day extension on its appeal at the time of the accident.

An End to Extensions

LaHood was quick to speak out against the practice of appeals extensions: “Following Tuesday’s horrific bus crash in Virginia, I have directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to end its practice of extending the appeals period for unsafe motor coach companies. There is no excuse for delay when a bus operator should be put out of service for safety’s sake. On my watch, there will never be another extension granted to a carrier we believe is unsafe. I’m extremely disappointed that this carrier was allowed to continue operating unsafely when it should have been placed out of service for the benefit of its passengers and other motorists.”

Does the Ban Apply to Trucking Companies?

The Sky Express incident and LaHood’s subsequent statement appear to be having a wide-sweeping effect on how FMCSA is handling appeals for all carriers. Just this week, the Foley audit support team received a call from a carrier facing an unexpectedly tight deadline. He had just received a call from FMCSA’s Eastern Service Center informing him that his appeals extension, which was originally approved through July 10, 2011, was no longer valid. He had until the end of the day to make any necessary adjustments to his compliance efforts or he would be placed out-of-service as a result of his unsatisfactory rating. It remains unclear whether the end of appeals extensions for carriers with an unsatisfactory rating is official, or if FMCSA’s Eastern Service Center is just being extremely cautious in the wake of the recent motor coach crashes.

Earlier this month FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro said that her agency is considering the appeals extension ban for all carriers, including trucking companies. Calls to FMCSA’s Midwestern and Western Service Centers failed to gather any information on whether or not there was a nationwide ban. At press time, Fast-Fax is waiting for a call back from a DOT spokesperson to confirm and clarify the extent of the extensions ban. We will provide an update in future issues of Fast-Fax as soon as new information becomes available.

What Does this Mean for Motor Carriers?

All carriers — but especially bus companies and other passenger carriers — should be extra vigilant about their DOT compliance efforts. The DOT and FMCSA have been very explicit about and methodical in executing their crackdown on passenger carriers. In recent months, there have been several high-profile enforcement events involving roadside inspection and compliance review blitzes. In early May, FMCSA unveiled its Action Plan to improve passenger carrier safety. The plan includes the development and implementation of zero tolerance policies for unsafe companies and drivers, the introduction of a pre-authority safety audit and more.

While it is gunning hard for motor coach companies, FMCSA has shown that it is not easing up on trucking companies and other types of carriers. If you have not done so recently, now is the time to review your company’s safety management practices to ensure you are in full compliance. Then make any necessary improvements before an inspector pulls you over or you are notified of an upcoming audit.

Call Foley for Help

Foley Carrier Services provides motor carriers with the tools they need to comply with the complex Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. If you need help with any of your requirements, please call a Compliance Specialist at 1-800-253-5506, ext. 0869.

Transportation Ticker

Passenger Carriers Behaving Badly. FMCSA proved that it is serious about going after carriers who attempt to “reincarnate” themselves to evade enforcement action. At the end of last week, the agency issued a cease-and-desist order against Sky Express, Inc. after learning that the bus company was attempting to operate despite an out-of-service order handed down on May 31.

According to FMCSA, Sky Express continued to sell tickets and was in the process of painting some of its vehicles in an attempt to circumvent the out-of-service order by operating under a different company name.

Also, this week FMCSA declared Georgia-based JCT Motor Coach, Inc. an imminent hazard to public safety and ordered the company to immediately cease all transportation services. The company had “reincarnated” itself as JT’s Travel & Charter to skirt a previous out-of-service order.

Editor: Roxanne Swidrak, Vice President, Operations • 1-800-253-5506 • • Vol. 111, No. 690 • © Foley Carrier Services, LLC. 2011