By Dr. Rob Molloy
Following a catastrophic commercial truck or motorcoach crash, there is often a temptation to immediately allocate blame by highlighting a driver’s inappropriate actions or by finding fault with a motor carrier’s safety programs. Yet, true safety leadership acknowledges that accidents, tragic as they are, should not be viewed as exercises in placing blame but as opportunities to learn and seek ways to improve safety and prevent future accidents.
Recently, I saw a perfect demonstration of this type of safety leadership from the US Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Two years ago, in November 2013, the NTSB completed its investigation of four commercial motor vehicle crashes that resulted in 25 deaths and 83 injuries. Through our investigations, we identified shortfalls in the FMCSA’s compliance review processes and subsequently issued two recommendations to the DOT calling for an audit of the FMCSA’s oversight programs. In response, the DOT convened an expert Independent Review Team (IRT) to evaluate FMCSA programs and provide recommendations for policy and procedure improvements.
The evaluation and actions taken by DOT far exceeded our expectations and culminated in a ground-breaking report, titled Blueprint for Safety Leadership: Aligning Enforcement and Risk. Not only did the IRT report provide actionable information in response to our recommendations, but it also provided insights and perspectives on other ways the FMCSA can improve motor carrier safety.
Equally as impressive as the quality and thoroughness of the IRT review has been the FMCSA’s enthusiasm to implement positive change. Even while the review was underway, the FMCSA proactively made program changes based on the feedback it was receiving from the IRT.
The FMCSA has already fulfilled several IRT recommendations, including enhancing training for its investigators and improving the use of data to better assess motor carrier risk factors. Moreover, the FMCSA has formed a Continuous Improvement Working Group, which will assist in improving the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program and in implementing the IRT recommendations.
The FMCSA is to be commended for its responsiveness and willingness to learn from tragedy to avoid future tragic accidents. Having seen firsthand the dedication and professionalism of the men and women of the FMCSA, I am confident that the agency will continue to strengthen commercial motor vehicle safety and reduce crashes, injuries, and deaths on our nation’s highways.
Dr. Rob Molloy is acting director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety