WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has pulled the plug on a contentious proposal to revise its method for determining the safety fitness of motor carriers.
The notice of proposed rulemaking, issued on Jan. 21, 2016, put forth a new methodology for evaluating if a motor carrier is not fit to operate commercial motor vehicles based on the carrier's on-road safety data, an investigation, or a combination of on-road safety data and investigation information.
Part of FMCSA’s proposal was to replace its current three safety fitness ratings — “satisfactory,” “conditional,” and “unsatisfactory” — with just one rating, “unfit.” That idea came under fire by some industry groups, including the National School Transportation Association (NSTA).
NSTA also argued that FMCSA should not proceed with a rulemaking on safety fitness determination before reforms are completed on the agency’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, as mandated by the FAST Act.
On Feb. 15 of this year, 62 national and regional organizations sent a letter to new Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, whose department includes FMCSA, urging her to withdraw the notice of proposed rulemaking on safety fitness determination.
On Thursday, FMCSA did just that, saying the decision was “based on the current record,” including the letter to Chao and comments in response to the proposal. The agency also said that it would alter its approach to the issue.
“If FMCSA determines changes to the safety fitness determination process are still necessary and advisable in the future, a new rulemaking would be initiated that will incorporate any appropriate recommendations from the National Academies of Science and the comments received through this rulemaking,” the agency wrote in a Federal Register entry on Thursday.
NSTA applauded the withdrawal of the proposed rulemaking, thanking Chao and members of Congress for their action on the issue.
“NSTA believes it [is] critical that regulators arrive at an accurate and clear method to evaluate carriers' safety fitness for the benefit of the general public,” Executive Director Ronna Weber said. “It does not make sense to propose a new evaluation method based on a flawed CSA system and inconsistent data, especially when that data is under review by the National Academy of Sciences. We are grateful that our voice has been heard on this issue."
In other news, 45 school bus contracting executives traveled to Washington, D.C., this week for NSTA’s annual Capitol Hill Bus-in on Tuesday and Wednesday. They are slated to take part in more than 250 individualized meetings with congressional offices, scheduled by NSTA's government relations firm, Prime Policy Group, to discuss key issues related to occupant protection in the school transportation industry.
"Two days in our nation's capital addressing our most pressing legislative issues as a collective group and as individuals is critical to our success as an association,” NSTA President Todd Monteferrario said. “We encourage all school bus contractors to join NSTA and better advocate for your business all year long."