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Are regulators deficient in oversight of commercial carriers?

Anyone familiar with Ohio’s highways and interstates knows that the state’s roadways are among the busiest in the country for both passenger and commercial traffic.

That latter transportation element -- the hauling of people and goods commercially by the nation’s trucking and bus carrier fleets -- is a stated source of concern to government safety regulators, who have taken a federal agency to task for its alleged subpar performance in regulating and overseeing generally problematic commercial operators. Such concern is obviously of material relevance nationally, including in Ohio.

The National Transportation Safety Board lacks any authority to regulate or mete out penalties to commercial enterprises that have spotty safety records and comparatively high rates of truck accidents and bus crashes. What is can do, though, is undertake research and issue recommendations to agencies who command such oversight.

In so doing, the NTSB exercises what is in essence a bully pulpit, that is, a platform for shining a safety-related spotlight where it deems necessary and cajoling better performance from agencies tasked with regulatory functions.

One such agency is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an arm of the federal Department of Transportation. That entity, stated NTSB officials last week, has a shoddy record in terminating operations for motor carriers that present clear dangers to the general public.

Specifically, the NTSB states that the agency is overly lax in auditing and following through on companies that it should reasonably know -- or in fact does know -- are safety risks. In statements issued last week, NTSB officials gave specific examples of companies that the agency says should have been shut down.

They weren’t, and crashes owing to safety deficiencies brought fatal outcomes.

In defense, FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro says that her agency is now performing better than in the past. It is shutting down more substandard carriers than in former years and is conducting an internal review of its safety operations.

Source: New York Times, "Safety board faults truck and bus oversight," Matthew L. Wald, Nov. 7, 2013

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