WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. has created a new Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – a trucking equivalent to the Federal Aviation Administration governing airlines – that promises to be far from a kinder, gentler enforcement regime.
As Truck News went to press in mid-December, President Bill Clinton had just signed the new Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act that would, among other initiatives, create the new agency as of Jan. 1.
The new entity removes the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety from the umbrella of the Federal Highway Administration.
Under the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act, foreign carriers who are not properly registered will also be banned from operating and face strict fines. While the initiative primarily targets Mexicans, since Canadians enjoy free access to U.S. highways, it still leaves room for penalties for Canadian vehicles that aren’t properly plated. And those trucks operating outside the scope of their registration authority will now be placed out of service at roadside.
Another $50 million in funding for the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, which at present receives $105 million, will help fund such things as a national crash study and a new system to collect collision data from across the nation.
The Act bans drivers who commit serious violations – in a car or truck – from operating a commercial vehicle in the U.S. And new carriers will also need to demonstrate that they know motor carrier safety rules, and will face a full safety compliance review within their first 18 months of operation.
Audits after that trial period will cover everything from logbook reviews to compliance with drug and alcohol tests, Department of Transportation spokesman David Longo told Truck News.
Officials involved in the switch are already stressing that this will not be a kinder, gentler enforcement regime. The maximum per-driver penalty was upped to $2,500 per violation last spring, where it had been $500, and carriers who had seen maximums limited to $1,000 saw them increase to $10,000.
The department had been criticized for settling fines at a lower rate.
“We started back earlier this year. We got some additional authority and created a safety action plan to step up the different sections of our regulation of the truck and bus industry,” says Longo. “This gives us significantly more resources and regulations and enforcement tools to do the job.”
“We begin a new era for truck and bus safety that will save many more lives on our highways,” said Lt. Lisa Irwin, president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). “It elevates motor carrier safety in the U. S. Department of Transportation by establishing a new motor carrier safety administration, but provides additional funding to the states, and strengthens enforcement programs.”
“Our intention is to identify high-risk unsafe carriers and drivers and either get them to conform to the federal motor carrier regulations or get them off the road,” Longo adds.
“It’s either comply or leave.” n
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