Motor Carrier Safety Program Administration Moves from FHWA to DOT Secretary's Office

Administration of federal motor carrier safety programs was moved from the Federal Highway Administration to the Office of the Secretary of Transportation recently. The transfer came after Congress approved a $50-billion spending bill for the Department of Transportation that cut off funding for truck safety programs as long as they remained in the FHWA.

The legislation, written by Rep Frank Wolf (R-VA), chairman of the House Transportation Appropriations Subcommittee, also eliminated ability of the Office of Motor Carriers (OMC) to fine carriers or take them to court for failing to comply with safety regulations. The agency retained the ability to conduct compliance reviews and safety fitness ratings, but could not fine or cite carriers unless violations posed an imminent hazard. Current enforcement actions were placed on hold.

OMC retained the ability to conduct inspections on trucks at the United States-Mexican border, take action on hazardous material transportation law violations, and continue supervision of commercial driver license programs. The office will assume jurisdiction over truck-related rulemakings currently handled by FHWA, including a petition to make intermodal terminal operators responsible for roadworthiness of containers and chassis.

Congress quickly approved separate legislation giving the OMC authority to issue fines and take carriers to court.

Separately, legislation creating a federal motor carrier administration was approved by the US House of Representatives. Endorsed by the American Trucking Associations, the Motor Freight Carriers Association, and the Teamsters union, the legislation moves truck and bus safety to the new agency by Oct 1, 2000, doubles financing for federal and state administration and enforcement programs from $354 million to $774 million, and makes numerous other changes in truck safety programs, including the commercial driver license program.

The bill also allows the DOT to suspend a carrier's registration and prohibits a carrier from operating in interstate commerce if it fails to pay penalties within six months of levy. Other changes in federal programs include:

* Requiring DOT to deploy sufficient inspectors at the US-Mexican border to ensure Mexican trucks entering the United States are inspected properly.

* Establishing minimum penalties for violating federal motor carrier safety laws and assessing repeat violators the maximum allowable fines.

* Shutting down carriers that refuse to pay their safety violation fines.

The legislation also repeals the Single State Registration System and replaces it with a unified carrier registration system that would be on line by Jan 1, 2002.

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