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FMCSA Enforcement: Business as Usual

If you thought the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would back off its regulatory agenda under President Trump, think again.

“It is business as usual as far as we are concerned,” said Jack Van Steenburg, FMCSA assistant administrator and chief safety officer, during a presentation May 2 at the Intermodal Association of North America Operations & Maintenance Meeting in Chicago (See Page 1).

He noted that new Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has declared that her No. 1 priority is safety. (Followed in turn by infrastructure and technology, including keeping up with the development of self-driving vehicles.)

As is the case with other areas of the federal government under the new Administration, President Trump has yet to name many of the executives beneath the secretary level, including chief administrator of FMCSA, but that hasn’t slowed down the existing agency staff.

In the immediate future, he said the agency’s top priority is targeting high-risk freight and passenger carriers. Others include intermodal trucking, hazardous materials hauling and enforcement of household goods consumer protection rules.

One more priority is the fast-approaching December deadline for all interstate truckers to have Electronic Logging Devices installed on their trucks. Van Steenburg expressed concern over the slow pace of adoption and the impact the delays could have on hours of service compliance.

What FMCSA Looks For

Later at the IANA meeting other FMCSA officials discussed what to expect when its inspectors show up to evaluate equipment maintenance at trucking company and Intermodal Equipment Provider (IEP) facilities.

The importance of maintenance was underlined by Van Steenburg, who gave the intermodal industry a “D plus” grade, with out-of-service rates for road equipment, primarily due to chassis, sitting at 20%.

“We need to get that down to single digits,” he said. “I am hopeful for the future because of IANA and the industry’s cooperative efforts with the agency.”

FMCSA special agent Kevin Hall, revealed that improper maintenance draws the most citations after drug and alcohol testing (including not following proper procedures as well as positive test results) HOS violations, and carriers that fail to adhere to proper driver qualification protocols.

The most cited maintenance issues are failure to document that a federally-required annual inspection took place, using someone unqualified to perform equipment inspections, and failure to perform regular inspections correctly.

Among the red flags FMCSA inspectors look for, even though some don’t amount to outright violations, are brake measurements entered into inspection reports that are all the same numbers, inadequate tools and equipment, and general sloppiness, such as open air inspections in yards without indoor facilities where they can be held.

For a long time, drayage drivers have bitterly joked that intermodal yard personnel inspecting chassis “are Mr. Magoo on the way out, and Sherlock Holmes on the way in.” Equipment issues ignored on the way out of the facility can cause serious problems on the road. Drivers also find they are regularly blamed for damage after they return the chassis, no matter how old that damage is.

Hall agreed this is an issue and said yard operators may not be aware that FMCSA agents perform unannounced surveillance of gate operations for several days before they enter the yard.

“We look for this practice and we do see it happening,” he said. However, he added that many drivers also fail to perform pre-trip inspections and report post-trip repairs that are needed.

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