FMCSA Chief Anne Ferro recently said that FMCSA’s goal should be to lower the truck-related fatality rate to zero (1). She argued that such a goal is not idealistic, but instead is a stretch goal, or an aspirational goal. Not having a single fatality accident involving a truck over the course of a year is certainly a goal for which we should aspire. But it is not a goal FMCSA can achieve through additional regulation. FMCSA oversees commercial truck and bus operations. FMCSA has no power to regulate everyday passenger vehicles, known colloquially as “four wheelers” by truck drivers. To place the burden of a zero fatality goal on itself, FMCSA is taking responsibility for the actions of all non-commercial drivers.
A study showed that in the year 2000, car drivers were responsible for 75% of the 5,211 people killed in truck-related accidents (2). Commercial truck drivers were responsible for 25% of those fatalities. Is that number too high? Yes. But that does not mean that a federal agency should set a goal that is completely outside the scope if its field of oversight. FMCSA cannot control the 17 year old who is still learning to drive safely. FMCSA cannot control the 30 year old who is distracted by his children in the back seat. FMCSA cannot control the 40 year old who is surfing the web on his smart phone while driving.
As long as the administration is challenging FMCSA employees to achieve a goal that is unrealistic and outside the scope of the organization’s capacity, truck drivers will continue to face unrealistic and harmful regulations. Regulations that place too heavy of a burden on the industry while ignoring a very real part of the dynamic that causes too many fatalities every year. Zero truck-related fatalities is not a stretch goal for FMCSA. There is no amount of additional regulations, additional oversight, or additional inspections that FMCSA can ever promulgate that will allow it to achieve this goal. FMCSA would be better served to find a true stretch goal that will benefit the industry and the public alike.