The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, defined FMCSA’s purpose as reducing the number and severity of large truck involved crashes. That year, FMCSA budget was $175 million and there were 5,727 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks and buses. In 2021, NHTSA estimates that there were 5,601 deaths and FMCSA’s budget was $747 Million. Accounting for inflation, the annual federal tax dollars going to CMV safety has increased more than 140% since FMCSA’s inception, which has resulted in a 2% reduction in fatalities. Hmm.
Through the years, FMCSA’s has conducted activities to ensure safety in motor carrier operations through strong enforcement of safety regulations; targeting high-risk carriers and drivers; improving safety information systems and CMV technologies; strengthening equipment and operating standards; and increasing safety awareness. Now that the Agency is of legal age, is it ready to go out into the real world on its own?
Before answering this question, we’ll note that FMCSA has been carrying out many directives from Congress and establishing and maintaining a voluminous set of regulations to fulfill its “safety” mandates. More recently, with advancements in technology and data, they have stepped into what is largely a private-sector driven safety focus, trying to keep up with the Joneses. This has forced them to be more efficient and to effectively monitor and communicate with the world they regulate. However, in practice it has been a challenge for them to do so successfully.
So, back to our question, is FMCSA ready to go out into the real world? Unfortunately, STC doesn’t think we have that answer yet. We are at a crossroads in the role of the federal government when it comes to CMV safety. The numbers suggest that the traditional regulatory and enforcement model may not work anymore. Does the administrative state work in today’s environment, or it is too rigid and reactive, failing to match the pace and agility of the private sector? The Agency needs to transform itself, and we believe it is making attempts to do so, reflected in its 2022 budget that transformed the Office of Compliance to the Office of Safety, while also adding 38 FTE’s, the only office to do so. But the Agency can’t do it themselves. As technology evolves our industry at an unprecedented speed, the government needs to be more willing to listen to the community it regulates and trust what it hears. It’s not about regulations, its about safety, which is a mission we both share.