“We know from research and experience that a fatigued driver is a dangerous driver. That’s why we remain concerned about attempts to increase, even temporarily, the number of maximum hours a truck driver could work from today’s 70-hour maximum,” said Darling, who was tapped for the position after Anne Ferro left the agency.
Darling acknowledged the main challenge during his tenure is to avoid a suspension of the restart provision of the HOS rule.
During the post-election lame-duck session, transportation observers say they expect Congress to consider legislation that would suspend for a year the restrictions to the 34-hour restart provision. The proposal also would require the agency to justify to Congress the rule’s safety claims.
Despite FMCSA’s objections, the proposal has considerable bipartisan support in the House of Representatives and Senate.
Darling’s interview with TT also explored the major items on the agency’s agenda, such as the issuance of a final rule on electronic logging devices and the implementation of the Unified
Registration System, an online streamlining of the agency’s registration process that will take effect Oct. 23, 2015.
“We will continue to build upon the progress that has been made to raise the bar to enter the motor carrier industry, maintain high safety standards to remain in the industry, and remove high-risk carriers, drivers and service providers from operation,” Darling said.
There’s broad speculation the White House will nominate a full-time administrator after the November midterm elections. Darling declined to say whether he is being considered for the permanent role.
Below are written responses to questions posed by TT:
TT: Most of trucking continues to raise concerns about aspects of the agency’s HOS rule change. Why do you think the pushback has been so strong?
Darling: Safety is our top priority. We updated the hours-of-service rules based on wide-ranging data, research and outreach to ensure that truck drivers have adequate time off to get the rest they need to be alert, safe and awake behind the wheel. Ultimately, we want to make sure that truck drivers can get home to their families, and that everyone else on the road can, too.
It is important to note that a driver is never required to use the 34-hour restart. A 34-hour restart is only necessary if a longhaul truck driver wants to work longer than 60 hours in seven days, or 70 hours in eight days.
TT: What major issues have you been dealing with since taking over?
Darling: I worked with my senior leadership to establish the agency’s top five priorities for the upcoming year. They include implementing Phase III of the CSA program, issuance of a final rule on ELDs, inspection modernization, issuance of a notice of proposed rulemaking on motor carrier safety fitness determination and being ready to implement URS. Of course, numerous other key safety priorities rank near the top, which we will also continue to pursue in the coming year.
TT: Who will the proposed ELD rule be applicable to?
Darling: The implementation of electronic logging devices industrywide is a top priority for the department. After an extended comment period, we are working as quickly as possible to complete it. We are at a stage in the rulemaking process right now where we, by department policy, are prohibited from discussing what will be in the final rule. That said, the final rule should be issued next year.
TT: What do you say to truckers concerned that officers on the road are “too picky” when deciding what is a violation?
Darling: Law enforcement officers are charged with protecting the safety of every traveler on our highways and roads, and that includes the safety of commercial drivers. What would seem like a minor infraction to a driver, for example, choosing not to use a hands-free mobile phone, as required by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, could lead to indescribably tragic consequences.
TT: What do you intend to accomplish in your role as acting administrator?
Darling: First, I am honored to serve as the acting administrator and will do everything I can to advance the goals and objectives of [Transportation] Secretary [Anthony] Foxx and this administration.
Within hours of assuming the role of acting administrator, I communicated to the FMCSA staff nationwide that the agency’s focus will continue to be on our primary mission of reducing crashes, fatalities and injuries involving commercial motor vehicles.
I also expressed to the FMCSA staff that our efforts to create a safety-focused, mission-directed, data research-driven, employee-empowered, and stakeholder-engaged organization would continue unabated.
Source: Transport Topics