Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Well, that was embarrassing, wasn’t it FMCSA?

Earlier this week, I could envision truckers around the country saying out loud, “Told you so FMCSA.” The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration had to admit that when it abandons a fact-based approach to regulation, the rules likely won’t stand up to scrutiny.

To catch anyone up who missed it, the inspector general signed off on a FMCSA study of the voluntary restart provision. The study shows that requiring two overnight rest periods and limiting the use of the restart did not benefit drivers.

Back in 2013, the agency added these restrictions to the voluntary restart provision. Truckers screamed that it rendered the provision useless. It forced people out on the road at times of peak congestion. It tried to mandate sleep and rest patterns. In the assessment of truck drivers, it failed.

Survey says
We can’t even give the agency credit for listening to this feedback and agreeing to study the changes. That credit goes to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and members of Congress. They listened to truckers and mandated the study and not just any study.

Congress mandated that the agency followed accepted research protocols and submit the study and findings for review. There was little to no room for monkeying around with the numbers.

In the end, the study proved what truckers have been saying.

“The study did not explicitly identify a net benefit from the use of the two suspended provisions on driver operations, safety, fatigue and health,” the report from the inspector general to Congress states.

The two overnight rest periods and the limitation to one restart every seven days have been suspended for a couple of years now. Again, that’s thanks to Congress. Going forward, we won’t have to mess with the provisions thanks to a legislative fix in the 2017 appropriations bill.

Now, what has FMCSA learned here?
I would certainly hope that this serves as an eye-opening experience for the agency. We have seen the agency torture research into submission to support new and changes to existing regulations. We have a term for it here around OOIDA HQ: “We believe” science.

We have a final rule on electronic logs that was built on this sketchy approach. Speed limiters are being proposed using some sort of half-baked research, too. These are things that need, deserve, and should be studied thoroughly.

In fact, if FMCSA has truly taken anything away from this experience, they should tap the brakes, hit the pause button, and go back to the research drawing board.

Maybe it’s just me, but I hate to be wrong. Once is bad enough, but twice. Now, that’s just a bad day. If I were in FMCSA’s shoes, I would be saying, we now have a research approach that’s acceptable and transparent and irrefutable. Maybe we should do that all the time now.

The iron is hot, so best be striking it
Aside from personal ego, FMCSA better start rethinking its standard MO. President Trump has regulations not only on the radar but in the cross-hairs. Truckers know there are a lot of unnecessary regs on the books. We need to be loud and clear on this point.

There is absolutely no need or excuse for an agency to try and ramrod something else through right now without making dang sure it’s justified.

So it looks to me like another round of studies is in order. And, maybe even some soul searching on the motives behind regulations like electronic logs and proposed speed limiters. An honest answer probably won’t have much to do with safety, but more to do with job justification.