Earlier this month, Robin Hutcheson, the Acting Administrator of FMCSA since January, finally got her day in the Senate. While her written testimony was predictably milquetoast, her answers to questions posed by Senators provided a bit more insight into her priorities and how she plans to attack rising crash numbers.
One theme that emerged was her commitment to driver workforce issues, including her belief that there is a looming driver shortage impacting the trucking industry. While she boasted about the Agency’s progress on the younger drivers pilot program, she doubled down on partnering with the DOL to improve working conditions at the same time by requiring those interested in the program to develop an apprenticeship program and register with DOL, to the dismay of many in trucking. She stopped short of speculating about whether the prohibition against allowing drivers under 21 to cross state lines improves safety, even though 18-year-olds can already travel hundreds of miles under the same conditions, provided they never cross state lines or carry interstate freight. She also highlighted plans to increase investigations on high-risk carriers, investments in technology and stressed collaboration with industry stakeholders, and DOT inter-agency cohorts to solve important safety problems.
Finally, when asked about CSA, she hedged her bets stating that four unnamed conditions must be met to update FMCSA’s enforcement prioritization system in response to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report and recommendations, including implementing Item Response Theory. She also commented that FMCSA would be seeking comments on any proposed changes.
So, what does this all mean? While Hutcheson is a little light on trucking specific experience, she has plenty in political roles. She knows the value of stakeholder input and the dangers of crossing important stakeholder groups. She may therefore be less willing to crack a few eggs to make her safety omelet. Stressing interagency and stakeholder collaboration is important for a well-functioning democracy but is a sure-fire way to slow the process. While there may be big moves on the horizon on issues like younger drivers and CSA, like the horizon, they may be slow to arrive.