Within the Executive Branch lies an administrative bureaucracy charged with carrying out the priorities of the current Administration by developing new regulations or removing old ones. At the same time, they’re charged with keeping the wheels on the bus (pardon the transportation pun) by conducting enforcement activities to ensure compliance with existing regulations. However, a recent flurry of regulatory activity aimed at changing how the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration uses its enforcement resources has STC wondering if, absent new funding or increased efficiency, FMCSA’s ambition could have unintended consequences.

This year, FMCSA has announced several initiatives that, when taken together, could significantly alter the compliance enforcement paradigm. Whatever your opinion on the specific components of this programmatic shift, STC thinks once it is all said and done it represents an overhaul of FMCSA’s enforcement program. These components include:

  • Safety Fitness DeterminationFMCSA is suggesting it is considering a wholesale change to the present three options of Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory safety ratings in favor of a binary scale of Fit or Unfit, and is considering using a broader set of data (think inclusion of roadside inspections) than the current focus on Compliance Reviews.
  • CSA/SMS MethodologyA Valentine’s Day surprise proposal to fundamentally offer how its Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program identifies and prioritizes carriers for enforcement intervention.
  • Speed LimitsAn effort that has dragged on for a decade and a half, FMCSA is seeking to require CMV speed limiters be installed and activated and for law enforcement to verify this on the roadside.
  • Crash Preventability Determination ProgramA proposal to expand the program to include additional crash types, which is mostly welcomed by the industry. However, anecdotal feedback suggests that resolution wait times routinely exceed 90 days.
  • New EntrantsFMCSA’s unified agenda includes an effort to do more to ensure new motor carriers are knowledgeable in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to include a written testing requirement.
  • DataQs AppealsFMCSA is suggesting it is considering adding another layer of appeals that carriers can use to request regulatory interpretation when they’ve exhausted their state-level appeals options.

With this flurry of activity, we pose two questions:

  1. As we look at these elements individually or potentially connected puzzle pieces, we question if the Agency has an end game in mind – a big picture that connects all the dots.
  2. Do the states – or even the federal government, for that matter – have the resources and funding to implement and enforce all of their proposed actions effectively, or are we approaching a choke point with inertia as the status quo?

As we piece together this new enforcement puzzle, the picture comes into focus. FMCSA has realized that if it hopes to drive down crash numbers, it needs to reimagine enforcement. Unfortunately, doing so will require spending additional money and human capital. Not doing so could create a significant choke point as programs are deployed absent the resources necessary to support them. If this is the case, STC worries that safety could suffer rather than improve.