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Sequestration and the FMCSA: Is the government cutting corners on truck safety?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted August 16th, 2013

Analysts remain confident that the FMCSA will not be seriously impacted by the sequester, which took effect in March

Sequester cuts fmsca funds

Recent government cuts, known as the sequestration measures, came into effect on March 1, 2013.  Though it’s still relatively early to make any judgments, the sequester raises challenging  questions about how measures that  affect public agencies charged with safeguarding public safety — especially the commercial trucking industry – will be affected.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the “sequester,” the concept is pretty simple. It’s a process that automatically cuts the federal budget across most departments and agencies. One such agency that has been affected by the sequester budget cuts is the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMCSA).

The FMCSA is charged with regulating the highways and holding bus and truck companies accountable for safety violations and accidents.  The agency reevaluates safety regulations and monitors the need for changes to accommodate the dynamic truck driving environment that is constantly changing, as forces like technology and the economy exert different pressures, or introduce new hazards.

As the Public Affairs Chair for the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Lawyer Group (as well as past president of the group), I can say that the FMCSA appears to still be functioning and exercising its regulatory authority.

For example, we have discussed the FMCSA shut downs of several bus companies and trucking companies like Fung Wah, Rimrock and Highway Star, following determinations that those companies posed an imminent hazard to public safety.

If you recall, some of the reasons for shutting down those commercial motor carriers included failure to enforce hours of service compliance, failure to adequately inspect and maintain their fleets and failure to cooperate with the FMCSA investigation, among other reasons.

How has the FMSCA budget been affected by sequestration?

The FMCSA is funded largely through the Highway Trust Fund, which bolsters significant resources through taxation on gasoline and fuel sales. The FMCSA budget is roughly $570 million.

Luckily, only about $1 million of that budget is subject to sequestration. To put that in perspective, that is only slightly above one one-hundredth of a percent, at 0.0017%, according to an NBC article, “Is the sequester putting you at risk?”

An FMCSA spokesperson, Justin Nisly, said that the FMCSA remains confident that normal workflow and performance of agency duties will go uninterrupted by the sequestration measures.  He also maintained that the “FMCSA continues to work aggressively to keep unsafe companies, vehicles and drivers off the road.”

In another encouraging development (or perhaps a lack of development), the FMCSA has not been forced to terminate any employees, nor has the agency implemented a hiring freeze.  Analysts believe that agencies like the FMCSA, which have alternative means of funding other than congressional appropriations will not be heavily impacted by the sequestration measures.

This is comforting information, especially given the disastrous consequences that would occur if the FMCSA went entirely asleep at the switch.  Already, our attorneys estimate that the numbers of bad trucking companies and dangerous unfit drivers who are discovered through events like Roadcheck are just a tip of the iceberg of the real numbers out there.

And that is truly terrifying for all of us who share the roads with these dangerous trucks.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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