The New Year rang in rather quietly. No Y2K bug eating through our lives. No unfortunate acts of terrorism. No year-end Wall Street panic.
But one issue slipped in the door Jan. 1 that could have a serious impact on your — and your commercial fleet customers’ – business.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was born.
While it sounds like yet another level of bureaucracy — only time will tell – the FMCSA finally pulled trucking industry safety from the sub-basement to the top level within the Department of Transportation -” a level of attention automotive safety has held for years.
The FMCSA was created as part of the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, a little bill that came after years of Congressional ping-pong.
Buried under endless mundane paragraphs detailing the creation of the FMCSA, its structure, budget and authority — the Act is a substantial revision of Title 49 of the United States Code – is a single line, a handful of words, that could potentially wreak havoc with all sizes and types of fleets and owner operators.
“Section 521 (b)(5)(B) of Title 49, United States Code, is amended by striking ‘is likely to result in’ and inserting ‘substantially increases the likelihood of.’”
So short. So seemingly innocent. So utterly damaging.
This fast-and-loose language softening gives the DOT — as well as state and local police agencies that conduct road-side inspections – the power to put a vehicle out of service or even shut down a fleet on the mere suspicion that a “safety problem” could maybe, potentially, theoretically cause harm.
Now, instead of having to establish, prove, demonstrate that “serious injury or death” would be "probable" because of a safety problem, the DOT and other agencies need only show that the presence of a safety problem — still not completely defined "substantially increases the likelihood of" serious injury or death.
While it’s high time the Feds recognized the need for a separate, equal and defined office to deal with trucking safety — and, believe me, the trucking industry is far from perfect when it comes to safety matters – I hate, loath, despise it when our government takes one step forward and 12 steps back.
Leave it to a pack of lawyers to fudge the English language and cause problems, difficulties, disputes.
But that’s not the point here.
Until some higher power — one with greater command, control, mastery of English – resolves the obvious ambiguity of “substantially increases the likelihood of,” your customers’ trucking business is on the line with every tire they ride on.
Tires are going to be an easy and obvious target for inspection. Under-inflation, irregular or excessive wear, mismatched duals, overloading, sidewall bulges, cutting or chipping, tread separations, penetrations — every no-brainer tire illness or perceived problem – will probably knock your customer out of the box. And if the inspecting agency finds, discovers, detects that your fleet has repeated problems with tires, they could get closed down.
Every dark cloud has a silver lining. And this one bears the fruit of additional sales for you.
Sit down with your fleet customers — keep in mind that this legislation covers “truck” fleets of all types, kinds and sizes, not just interstate trucking fleets – and develop a regular inspection and maintenance program to catch potential problems before it’s too late.
If you repair tires, make sure your technicians have up-to-date and detailed training. If you retread or broker retreads, take steps to make sure the end product does not end up putting your customers down for the count.
The bottom line is your customer’s bottom line. The last thing your fleet customer wants is a call in the middle of the night from a driver put out of service in the middle of nowhere. The last thing you want is the next phone call he makes.