More Regulations = More Safety?

I had the opportunity to attend my first Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) conference this week, though only for a portion of one day.  During that time I heard presentations from safety officials from Mexico, Canada, and the United States.  Not surprisingly, the presentations were very generic updates without much meat to them.  Nonetheless, they were good to hear and the messages were well received by the audience.

Most troublesome to me, however, is the consistent mantra that more and more regulation is the solution to addressing safety issues. Unfortunately, left out of the discussion (or at least in these presentations), was cost.  What is the cost of new regulation?  While larger carriers may be able to absorb certain costs, it’s the small independents that become financially battered by over regulation.  It’s the small independent that is symbolic of the American spirit of entrepreneurship, yet it is excessive regulation that often kills that spirit.

Safety, of course, is a priority.  But so are consistency, reasonableness, and competitive fairness.  After all, the government that governs best is the government that governs least (Thomas Jefferson).

An overview of each presentation:


Mexico 

Mauricio Hinojosa, Deputy General Director of Supervision
Secretaria de Comunicaciones y Transportes

Though I arrived a little late to his presentation, he provided several statistics on the recent successes in cracking down on unsafe operations.  He reaffirmed Mexico’s commitment to safety on the highways.

Canada 

Doug MacEwen, Chair of Compliance and Regulatory Affairs Committee
Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators

He devoted his 10 minute presentation to reviewing the highlights of Canada’s Roady Safety Strategy 2015.  His presentation was primarily a summary of this web page: http://ccmta.ca/crss-2015/strategy.php


United States 

Anne Ferro, Administrator
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

I was afforded the opportunity to interview her one on one the following day, which I did.  That interview will be shared in a future edition of Challenge Magazine.

For now, the highlights of her comments at CVSA are:

    • Collaboration begins with a good conversation.
    • FMCSA, along with its partners in Canada and Mexico, is committed to making sure North America is safest place in the world to travel.
    • Work has achieved significant reduction in crashes nationally over the past 5 years – 30% reduction overall.
    • Profitability is only achieved through high, high safety standards.
    • Success is achieved through teamwork.
    • New Entrant program
      • Ensures that there is a very clear sense of what is required.  Strengthens the focus.
    • NAS Tool (screening tool)
      • Applying more extensively and will be applying to weed out those who are unsafe.
    • CSA – no better example of maintaining safety standards
      • Constant performance measurement tool
      • Ensures folks are operating at the highest standards
    • National Registry on Certified Medical Examiners
      • Ensures standards are being followed.
    • Ensuring we are moving the high risk entities from the roadway.
      • Drug and alcohol clearing house – proposed rule later this year.  Ensures carriers have the knowledge they have to only hire the best (avoid drivers who hop from one to the other as a result of drug test or skipping drug tests).
      • Pre-employment screening program.  Ensures everyone has the tools they need to prevent high risk drivers from getting behind the wheel.
    • Enforcement tools
      • Eminent hazard – get the bad actors off the road and give them a chance to rehabilitate and improve, or stay off the road.
    • HOS
      • Completed and published final rule – focus is to ensure that drivers have the opportunity to get proper rest. Minimize risk of operating after cumulated fatigue.
      • Reduces overall weekly hours by 15% (under maximum model – from 82 to 70 hours).
      • Rules take effect in July 2013.
      • Reduces risk of drivers pushing the limit and of carriers pushing drivers to push the limit.
      • FMCSA is developing in depth training programs for enforcement partners.


  • EOBRs
    • Listening session explanation – harassment
      • Remedial rule that was struck down last September because FMCSA failed to address the legislatively mandated anti-harassment requirements.
    • Next phase – press ahead with current NPRM
      • With listening session info and additional research, address harassment issues.
      • Include Technical standards.
  • C-Vision
    • Alive and well
  • National Registry for Medical Examiners – DOT Physical
    • Effective May 2014
    • Closing the gap insuring driver DOT physicals are accurate, current, and administered by educated medical examiners that know what it means to be a commercial driver from the perspective of individual health.
  • Sleep Apnea
    • Accidentally published a rule prior to it being ready.
    • Continue to work on the recommendations.
    • Will publish later this year, but what you saw last week is fairly accurate.

Jimmy Beasley, Transportation Security Specialist, Highway Motor Carrier Program
Transportation Security Administration

See my recent blog here.  Despite what some in President Obama’s Administration say, the TSA said the war on terror is far from over.

Ryan Posten, Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Hazardous Materials Safety
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)

  • He receives 2-3 notifications of cargo tank roll overs daily.
  • Promoted the tanker safety training video:  www.fmcsa.dot.gov/about/outreach/cargo-tank-video.aspx
  • Working with NHTSA on rule for new electronic stability protection requirements on new vehicles.
  • Researching feasibility options for electronic shipping documents instead of      traditional paper – this would impact every driver.



The War on Terror is Over – Really?

National Journal columnist Michael Hirsh published an article, as well as wrote an online blog, in which an unnamed senior official in the State Department told him that, “The war on terror is over.” (Read more on this here from The Weekly Standard).

I personally find this statement to be confusing because it was just this morning that I attended the Commercial Vehicle Safety Association’s conference in Bellevue, Washington, and heard a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) official deliver a completely opposite statement.

Speaking during the general session, Jimmy Beasley, a Transportation Security Specialist for the TSA’s Highway Motor Carrier Program, began his remarks by stating “that we still should be aware and understand that the war on terror is far from being over. We still have a lot of work to do.”

He went on to explain that “lone wolf operations” are the biggest threat to the United States.  One of the counter measures to this and other threats are the VIPR teams (which I previously wrote about in a blog post titled Mission Creep on the Highways).  He emphasized the importance of the VIPR teams at bus terminals, truck stops, weigh stations, rest areas and other locations.

Further supporting the idea that perhaps the war on terror is not over, the TSA also continues to develop and update counter terrorism guides that will be published sometime in the next 6 months.

According to Beasley, TSA is also moving forward with two new initiatives to help fight the war on terror, though both are still in the beginning stages:

  • Food Defense – TSA is currently working with the USDA and FDA to try and identify and mitigate the security gaps in food defense during transport.
  • Truck Tracking – the 9/11 Act requires TSA to develop a truck tracking program for all motor carriers transporting security sensitive cargo. (Public Law 110-53, Sec. 1554)

The question then becomes, which Administration official is correct – is the war on terror over or not?  Well, it apparently depends on which official in the Obama Administration you are asking and what they are trying to achieve that day.


Highway Funding Devolution Makes Sense

As the nation’s highway infrastructure continues to deteriorate, Congress continues to play political football with a meaningful long term highway bill.  It’s Congress’ inability, or unwillingness, to pass such a bill, and instead pass last minute short term extensions, that leaves states scrambling to plan beyond a year or two on major construction projects.

Obviously the federal funding system is not providing the much needed solutions to infrastructure repair.  I’ve written previously about how federal fuel tax revenues are projected to decline, current fuel tax revenues are partially diverted to non-highway projects, and states simply cannot plan sufficiently with short term extensions.

It’s for these reasons, in addition to Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy that the government closest to the people rules best, that I am increasingly intrigued by proposals to devolve highway funding authority back to the states.  I support the efforts of Congressman Tom Graves (R-GA) to do this with the federal gas tax, and have now found a new proposal that intrigues me.

  The new proposal leaves many questions left unanswered though.  Robert Poole with the Reason Foundation has just published the study, “Why the House Should Give States Greater Tolling Flexibility.”  In essence, the report (read it here) suggests that if the states were given more tolling authority they could then fund much needed highway infrastructure repair and could even use flexible pricing to reduce congestion.

  I’ve never been a fan of tolls as I have always believed the current fuel tax funding system is designed to fund highway infrastructure repair.  I even wrote a column in Challenge Magazine in 2006 opposing President Bush’s nomination of former DOT Secretary Mary Peters based, in part, on her prior support of tolling.  But, with Congress at an impasse and states needing flexibility, I am interested in at least discussing Mr. Poole’s proposal.

  My primary concern with the proposal is that it does not seem to replace the current fuel tax system, rather supplement it.  That is where my interest starts to wane.  Mr. Poole responded to my inquiry about this by saying, “What you have asked about is a subject I am currently researching, for a major Reason Foundation study that will propose a several-decade state DOT-led program to reconstruct and modernize the Interstate system using toll finance.”

He also told me that, “I am also very interested in developing the proposal in a way that makes sense from the trucking industry’s perspective. One possibility would be to replace all current federal and state highway use taxes on trucks with the new interstate tolls.”  He references the success of a pilot study at Delcan on a per-mile truck charging system for New York State and a study he proposed for Wisconsin’s Interstates.

I’ve written in the past about how fuel tax money is diverted to non highway/road projects.  Would this happen with toll roads?  Perhaps they would.  According to an AP article, Chris Plaushin, Director of Federal Relations for AAA, testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security, that tolls are being diverted to pay for projects other than the actual toll specific project.

Then there is the issue of interstate commerce.  Testifying on 4/18/2012 before the same aforementioned Committee, Steve Grabell, CFO of NFI, said on behalf of the American Trucking Association, “Most of the states that have considered, or are currently considering, Interstate tolls, have suggested that they will charge tolls at their borders or at other locations designed to place much of the financial burden on out-of-state traffic, an act that likely violates the Commerce Clause.”

So, here we are.  Congress won’t likely pass a long term highway bill in 2012 and states are looking for alternatives that might allow for long term planning.  It’s also unlikely Congress will give up the federal fuel tax money – too many hands are in that pot of gold.  But, devolution of funding and authority to the states, in some form, is a desired solution in my opinion.  Tolling…..perhaps we could consider it if it fully replaced the gas tax, but I doubt that would happen.  Nonetheless, I do look forward to Mr. Poole’s next study and further discussion (something needs to be done and Congress really isn’t addressing the needs of our highway infrastructure with their gamesmanship).

But for my money, Congressman Graves’ proposal is still the best bet. 



It’s Not Football Season

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog titled, “Highway Bill – Political Football.”  In that blog post I supported the efforts of Representatives Mica and Duncan to pass a short term highway funding extension, but encouraged them to get a long term bill passed by June.

Well, it looks like any long term highway bill has virtually no chance of passage this year – just as predicted in my past writings.

Because transportation is intimately linked to the price of oil, any transportation legislation is prime pickings to insert energy related language.  The Republicans in the House have drawn the proverbial line in the sand with one such issue – The Keystone Pipeline.  This continues to be a hot political button and one the Republicans have rightfully advocated the approval of despite President Obama’s refusal to do the right thing for America’s energy independence.

But, choosing to try and include approval for the Keystone Pipeline in a meaningful long term highway bill, or even a short term extension, essentially kills any chance of approval.

The Democratic controlled Senate, with the support of many Republicans, passed a short term (though they refer to it as long term) 2 year highway bill.  The House will not pass that bill.  The Senate will not pass a House bill that includes the Keystone Pipeline or other similar provisions.

So, what we have here is an impasse that will result in multiple short term extensions that gets us through the election to the lame duck Congress and perhaps into the next Congress in 2013.

What does this mean for the transportation industry?  It means states are unable to plan much needed highway and infrastructure improvements with any certainty.  Yes, there will still be construction but it will be little more than patchwork to a deteriorating system.  It means that innovative proposals like that of Congressman Graves have little chance of any real consideration.  It means more of the status quo – which is not a good thing.

It’s high time Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – figure out that the political gamesmanship is what people are tired of.  Americans deserve meaningful solutions and using the long term highway bill in a game of high stakes political football is in no way helping this great country.

It’s time for leadership, not gamesmanship.


Fueling the Economy

It doesn’t take much to see that the economic recovery is moving at a snail’s pace, and that this will be the primary focus of the 2012 election cycle.  It’s also fairly easy to see that whether it’s the Highway Bill in Congress or the battle between the classes, the rhetoric is already ramping up.  Regardless of how you stand there’s one thing for certain – trucking will feel the impacts of this election year.

The Highway Bill

I’ve long advocated for the passage of a long term highway bill (see my Driving Through DC columns in Challenge Magazine) instead of these short term extensions that seem to be the norm now.

Having both worked in state government and lobbied state government, I can tell you that the short term extensions are nice for funding purposes but allow for very minimal long term planning.  And, it’s the long term funding bills that provide the states with the certainty they need in moving forward on major infrastructure projects.

My friends in Congress tell me that next week the Highway bill will hit the floor again.  The interesting thing is that when I ask what we can expect and what sort of obstacles, challenges, or even positives might come, the answer is less than inspiring.

I’m told that it’s unclear right now as not everyone knows what will be in the bill yet (a lengthy bill mind you, with lots of dollars attached to it).  How many of us run our personal lives or businesses like that?  It always concerns me when we take the student approach of cramming before the test.

The House was right to defeat the Senate’s highway bill, and a short term extension then was appropriate.  But now, it’s time for real leadership and a long term (6 years) highway bill.

Taxes on Oil

I also had the opportunity this week to interview Dr. Kevin Hasset, Director of Economic Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, for my local radio program.  He’s written a blog this week on why targeted taxes on big oil companies are inconsistent with capitalist theories and has a negative impact on the overall economy – thus, a bad idea.

We also discussed how this approach would also lead to higher fuel/transportation prices, which ultimately impacts the trucking industry and the end consumer.

Though the attacks on big oil, which is naturally a significant part of the transportation economy, have been largely unsuccessful in the recent past we can expect the attacks to continue during this election year.  If successful, expect to pay more at the pump and for even more strain on the small independent operators (the same supposed small businesses the Obama Administration is concerned about).

Listen to the discussion here:   Dr. Kevin Hassett