A new rule published in the Federal Register Jan. 22 enables the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to suspend or revoke the operating authority registration of any commercial motor carrier that has demonstrated a pattern of “egregious disregard for safety compliance.”
The new rule, which becomes effective Feb. 21, is also designed to prevent persons who have displayed a habitual disregard for U.S. safety rules from exercising a “controlling influence” over a motor carrier company’s operations, and from operating multiple entities in an effort to conceal noncompliance with safety rules.
The FMCSA, which the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) harshly criticized in November for not doing enough to prevent deadly bus crashes, said it acknowledges how serious a loss of operating authority is to a commercial carrier, but added that the new rule is necessary “to address motor carriers that engage in a pattern or practice of willfully violating safety regulations or forming new entities or affiliate relationships to avoid compliance or mask or otherwise conceal noncompliance.”
The agency said that Congress directed it to implement the rule “because it recognized the danger that carriers seeking to evade compliance with [safety regulations] pose to the public.”
To enforce the new rule, the FMCSA has established a two-part framework. The first measure the agency will take is to determine which motor carriers habitually disregard safety rules or have a pattern of activity indicating they are attempting to hide noncompliance.
The agency will then evaluate any carriers that meet the initial threshold and consider a number of factors to determine whether those companies pose a threat to public safety. Carriers that the FMCSA concludes have engaged in egregious safety violations or masking their noncompliance will have their operating authority registration suspended or revoked and may be subject to additional civil and criminal penalties.
Illustrating the need for tougher rules, the FMCSA cited the August 2008 crash of a bus in Sherman, Texas, that killed 17 passengers and injured 38 others, many seriously. Investigations conducted by the FMCSA and NTSB found that the motor carrier was operating without authority, was a “reincarnation” of another bus company that had been recently placed out of service for safety violations, and that both companies were under the control of the same person.
FMCSA determined that the companies’ flagrant disregard for safety under this person’s control demonstrated a hazard to the safety of the motoring public. Since the Sherman, Texas, crash, a number of other deadly bus crashes have occurred that might have been prevented with tougher non-compliance laws.