FMCSA has chosen a new direction, creating a new position that will consolidate several functions across the Agency, leading to greater efficiencies and collaboration. STC had the opportunity to sit down for a great conversation with Darrell Ruban, FMCSA’s new Associate Administrator for Safety, to talk about his background, priorities, and the path forward in his new role.

Darrell has been with the Agency since 1990, having worked in operational positions for three trucking companies for nearly five years before joining FMCSA. At FMCSA, he spent 13 years in the field as a Safety Investigator, then moved on to the Headquarters serving in several roles, including working for the National Training Center (NTC) and in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance. In 2006, he was promoted to Field Administrator and then Regional Field Administrator of the Southern Service Center, having 13 Southern states under his responsibility.

His knowledge and experience provide an excellent background for this new position, which has broadened responsibilities to include oversight of FMCSA field operations, as well as compliance and enforcement, MCSAP, CDL, Grants, Drug and Alcohol, NTC, and Specialized Divisions. This new AA position, which reports to the Executive Director/Chief Safety Officer, was created to help streamline processes and decision making, enhance collaboration, and improve consistency in decisions and the application of policies. Darrell indicated one of his biggest priorities is to build a team environment based on cohesion and collaboration which will help in internal and external communications.

Q. What do you feel are the biggest issues facing the trucking industry, and how can FMCSA help?

A. The pandemic has forced FMCSA to focus not just on safety but on supply chain and driver issues and broader impacts on the motor carrier industry. I plan to continue to support our supply chain efforts and opportunities for the industry to hire safe, qualified, and well-trained drivers, which has been a challenge, especially for specialized drivers. There is a direct correlation with safety. In the last several years, we have seen an unfortunate shift in driver behavior of both truck and car drivers to take more risks, with increases in speeding and aggressive and inattentive driving – we need a culture shift away from these behaviors and to focus more on driving safely. We have seen many new carriers entering the business during the pandemic, mostly small operators, and we need to help to get them on the path to safety and improving working conditions. We are dealing with detention times at shippers/consignees as well. The new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law creates new programs and opportunities for FMCSA and the States to impact our mission. More funding allows for outside-of-the-box thinking.

Q. What are the biggest challenges for FMCSA in the coming year?

A. The biggest challenge will be impacting safety in a way where we can bend the curve and improve the culture to reduce crashes and fatalities. Unfortunately, crashes have been on the rise, and we really can’t accept any CMV-related crashes. We know we can’t do this on our own, and collaboration with the industry is key. Additionally, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides a lot of additional resources to FMCSA. We have developed a 5-year staffing plan that will enhance our safety efforts and add around 100 more field investigators. Our biggest challenge is driving a cultural change in the industry. The public typically sees crashes as statistics rather than names and faces. We need consistent, quality, and repetitive messaging to increase awareness and action. Enforcement has a role here, but we need to better understand people’s motivations and encourage behavioral change.

Q. What is the status of CSA, and when can the industry expect a decision on next steps?

A. We have thoroughly reviewed the report from the National Academy of Sciences, including the Item Response Theory model, and are assessing the impacts of their recommendations and how they could affect our data moving forward with CSA.

Q. How is working with the New Acting Administrator?

A. She is very responsive and supportive of the staff and is focused on collaboration both internally and externally. She supports the Agency’s mission and has high expectations for all of us to achieve better results. While in the Office of the Secretary, she had direct responsibility for the National Roadway Safety Strategy and the Safe Systems approach within that strategy and brings her experience and stakeholder collaboration to FMCSA. She is focused on FMCSA as a data-driven organization and the aspirational goal of zero fatalities on our roadways. She is heavily invested in the Trucking Action Plan, including improving working conditions for drivers, the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program, the Women in Trucking and Truck Leasing Task Forces, as well as providing opportunities for veterans

Q. What are you most excited about with the FMCSA Research Agenda?

A. I am excited about our agenda here, as we can only achieve our mission collaboratively, and our research is critical to our mission. I like our focus on safety technologies, not just for large carriers but taking opportunities for smaller carriers as well. We also are looking forward to the crash causation study, as it will help not only reinforce what we think we know now but also provide a roadmap that is data-driven and will support decision-making. We are spending a lot of energy in support of Automated Vehicle Technology and learning more about what the path forward is relative to safety impacts and government policy. There are several studies coming out of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including a driver compensation study. FMCSA traditionally has not gotten involved in pay issues, but this study, along with our work on the Safe Driver Apprenticeship program, supply chain, and detention issues, provides a great opportunity for FMCSA to take a leading role in creating a better working environment for drivers and improving safety.