National Safety Agency Urges DOT Audit Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

Key Development: National Transportation Safety Board recommends audit of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, citing bus and truck crashes.
Next Steps: It is up to the Department of Transportation to conduct the audit.
By Heather Caygle

Nov. 7 — The chief government agency in charge of investigating transportation accidents across the country is recommending the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration be audited following serious questions about proper oversight of bus and trucking industries after several deadly crashes. The National Transportation Safety Board Nov. 7 called for an audit of FMCSA's processes overseeing motor carriers and commercial trucks, expressing concerns with both the thoroughness and quality of the agency's oversight. In addition, the NTSB reviewed FMCSA's oversight of four recent commercial vehicle crashes and found that safety deficiencies and “red flags” were present prior to the crashes but went unnoticed by FMCSA regulators.

“Our investigators found, that in many cases, the poor performing company was on FMCSA's radar for violations, but was allowed to continue operating and was not scrutinized closely until they had deadly crashes,” said NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman in a statement.

Compliance Review Weaknesses

The NTSB found that FMCSA missed key signals during routine compliance reviews before the accidents and had those safety violations been addressed, it is possible the crashes wouldn't have occurred.

The four accidents reviewed included two motor coach crashes and two commercial truck crashes within the last year. In total, the accidents resulted in 25 deaths and 83 injuries.

FMCSA needs to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high visibility events, NTSB says.

“While FMCSA deserves recognition for putting bad operators out of business, they need to crack down before crashes occur, not just after high visibility events,” Hersman said.

In a safety recommendation letter sent to the Department of Transportation requesting the audit, Hersman said that FMCSA's poor quality investigative work presents a serious problem in need of review from DOT.

In its audit, DOT should identify why FMCSA inspectors are missing some safety violations by motor carriers during the review process and take steps to address those problems, Hersman said.

FMCSA Responds

In response, a FMCSA spokeswoman said the agency has taken several steps over the last year to increase its oversight of bus and trucking companies. Those steps include putting FMCSA inspectors through specialized training and conducting a “top-to-bottom” analysis of the agency's current oversight procedures.

“In the past three years, we have more than tripled the number of unsafe companies and drivers we have taken off the road through more comprehensive investigations,” said FMCSA spokeswoman Marissa Padilla.

“We are continuously looking for new ways to make our investigation methods even more effective so we shut down unsafe companies before a crash occurs and will thoroughly review the NTSB's findings.”

FMCSA has about 350 safety inspectors charged with overseeing more than 525,000 truck and bus companies. NTSB's Hersman asked that DOT respond to its audit request within 90 days.

Reproduced with permission from Daily Report for Executives, 217 DER A-25 (Nov. 8, 2013).
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