Acting FMCSA Administrator Steps Down after Committing to Improving Trucking Safety

Acting FMCSA Administrator Steps Down after Committing to Improving Trucking Safety

The acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Meera Joshi, has announced that she is stepping down from the position at the end of this month. Joshi was the acting administrator of the FMCSA for just under a year, and is leaving to accept a position serving as the Deputy Mayor of Operations in New York City.

The FMCSA had not had a full-time administrator since Ray Martinez’s departure in October 2019. Since then, the position has been filled by a series of interim administrators. Jim Mullen served as acting administrator following Ray Martinez until August of 2020, after which Wiley Deck was appointed. Deck’s departure in January 2021 opened up the role yet again, and Joshi stepped in as the acting administrator. She was then nominated by President Biden in April to take on the role full time, which she accepted.

Reducing Truck Accidents

At her nomination hearing in September of last year, Meera Joshi, the latest administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, stated that she would commit to working to reduce the number of deaths and injuries sustained due to truck and 18-wheeler accidents.

Formerly a transportation consultant, city planning advocate, and chairwoman and CEO of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, Joshi was named deputy administrator in January by the current administration, and would be the seventh administrator of the FMCSA. At her hearing, which took place on September 22nd of last year, she was questioned by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey about what he called a “lack of oversight” by the FMCSA in tackling truck accident numbers. In his statement, he said that the trucking sector has fallen into a “regulatory black hole,” experiencing little scrutiny and therefore, seriously endangering the public.

Markey also cited truck accident statistics that revealed the 45% increase of truck accident fatalities since 2009, as well as an 18% increase in injuries sustained, and stated his dissatisfaction with the FMCSA and previous administration’s response to his request for more oversight after the Boston Globe released a thorough, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative series on truck accidents.

“I wrote a letter to the FMCSA that urged the agency to implement stronger procedures for certifying new trucking companies, conducting regular oversight of the industry, and enforcing federal safety standards,” Markey stated, adding that unfortunately, the response he received was “woefully insufficient,” and “failed to commit to the major reforms we need and showed how truck safety regulators have been asleep at the wheel.”

Joshi’s Plans to Make American Roads Safer

At her hearing, Joshi outlined her plans to oversee the FMCSA and the trucking industry. Some of the first and foremost priorities she mentioned include streamlining the data transfer process for intra- and inter-state Commercial Driver’s Licenses, and ensuring that federal licensure standards are upheld when truck drivers work across state lines. The bill, which she stated was in the final stages of publication, would mandate automatic data transfer for all of the states so that the federal government could better ensure the people driving 18-wheelers and other commercial vehicles are qualified to do so regardless of varying state requirements. The bill has yet to be passed, and its status is unclear.

In addition, she addressed the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, an online database that gives information about truck drivers, their commercial driver’s license status, and records of any drug and alcohol violations to the FMCSA, the State Driver Licensing Agencies, state law enforcement, and potential employers. A study done last year revealed that more than 300,000 truck drivers would fail if given a surprise drug test, but Joshi stated that the Clearinghouse will help to crack down on offenders and ensure employers are making safe hiring decisions. She also mentioned strengthening the entrant program and raising the bar in terms of requirements for new drivers, and broadening the scope of investigations to include more potentially risky behaviors.

Joshi was also asked about what could be done to relieve congestion, particularly around the nation’s ports. In response, Joshi shared her intentions to mitigate these issues, including better regulating the trucking industry, increasing transparency about appointment systems, offering more flexible hours, and giving truckers more certainty on container drop off and pickup times. She also posed financial incentives as a strategy for congestion relief. By making the trucking community “bear the brunt” of waiting for vehicles to be loaded or unloaded without compensating them accordingly, she said, “the congestion and downtime is felt by them, and there’s no incentive to disperse that among the whole system.”

Another topic of discussion was the future of the truck industry and surrounding technology. When asked about autonomous commercial motor vehicles, she stated that though the transition to AI is inevitable, safety is still the number one priority, especially for 18-wheelers. In a time where companies like Tesla are facing backlash for unsafe self-driving technologies, Joshi stated that it is imperative that autonomous driving systems, especially crash prevention technologies, are thoroughly tested before making it onto public roads.

Finally, Joshi praised the work of truck drivers and those working in the trucking industry, stating that “commercial motor vehicles, aka large trucks and buses, are not only essential to America’s thriving economy—transporting over 70% of our nation’s freight as well as our loved ones” are “critical” in times of crisis. She applauded their strength and resilience during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the truck driver shortage, severe weather events, and the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack which affected fuel supply on the East Coast. Although the proposed changes offer great promise for the future of trucking in America, there is undeniably still a lot of work to be done to hold the trucking industry accountable, enact change, and ensure that people are staying safe on Texas roads.

Joshi’s Successor

It was announced this week that Robin Hutcheson will replace Joshi as the FMCSA deputy administrator when Joshi vacates the position at the end of this month. Hutcheson has been the deputy assistant secretary for safety policy at the Department of Transportation since January of last year. Prior to that, she was the director of public works for the city of Minneapolis, and worked as the transportation director for Salt Lake City, Utah.

American Trucking Associations president Chris Spear stated that Hutcheson is assuming this position at a “critical time,” citing the pandemic, extreme weather events, worker shortages, and supply chain issues as some of the major issues the transportation industry is currently facing. Hutcheson joins a task force dedicated to help alleviate the stress on the trucking industry by aiding understaffed freight hubs and commercial ports.

This includes rollout of the Trucking Action Plan recently launched by the Biden Administration and the a pilot program that was recently approved allowing adolescents between 18 and 20 to obtain commercial driver’s licenses and drive 18-wheelers, an initiative that leaders hoped would attract new talent to make up for an aging workplace and truck driver shortages.

In addition, she will work with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to decongest commercial ports and freight hubs and address the myriad of other supply chain issues that have only been exacerbated since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal leadership hopes that her induction as administrator will end the streak of interim leaders, allowing the FMCSA to make American roads a safer and more efficient place to drive.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, it’s imperative that you speak with a Truck Accident Lawyer to get an understanding of your rights. The lawyers of The Callahan Law Firm have been successfully representing injured people and their families for over 25 years, and they can help you too. Give us a call at 713-224-9000, or fill out our contact form here.