Commercial Motor Vehicles:

Effectiveness of Actions Being Taken to Improve Motor Carrier Safety Is Unknown

RCED-00-189: Published: Jul 17, 2000. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed efforts being undertaken by the Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to reduce the number of truck-related fatalities, focusing on: (1) the motor carrier administration's overall strategy for reducing fatalities resulting from crashes involving large trucks; (2) specific actions the motor carrier administration is taking to meet this goal; (3) the extent to which the motor carrier administration has considered additional improvements suggested by the safety community, industry, and others; and (4) the bases for the motor carrier administration's estimates for the expected number of lives to be saved as a result of proposed revisions to its hours of service rules.

GAO noted that: (1) the motor carrier administration has developed an overall strategy for improving the safety of commercial motor vehicles (trucks and buses); (2) this strategy, called the Safety Action Plan, covers the years 2000 through 2003 and contains 47 initiatives that are intended to be an initial step in enabling DOT to reach its goal of reducing fatalities due to crashes involving large trucks by 50 percent by 2009; (3) these initiatives fall within several broad categories, including increasing the enforcement of federal safety regulations, increasing safety awareness, improving safety information and technology, and improving performance standards for vehicles, drivers, and motor carriers; (4) however, DOT has not articulated how the individual initiatives, or sets of initiatives, in the plan will contribute to reductions in truck-related fatalities; (5) in response to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, criticisms by congressional subcommittees, and recommendations by DOT's Inspector General, GAO, and others, DOT has taken initial steps toward improving motor carrier safety; (6) these steps include establishing a new organizational structure--the motor carrier administration--that has accountability for truck safety and that supports a greater emphasis on enforcement and compliance; (7) also, DOT appears to be making progress on some of the individual initiatives in its Safety Action Plan; (8) the motor carrier administration sought comments on a draft of its Safety Action Plan from 49 organizations representing industry and the safety community; (9) it also published proposed revisions to its regulations that limit the number of hours that drivers of commercial motor vehicles are permitted to drive before resting; (10) under the proposed rule, DOT estimates that 115 fatigue-related fatalities would be avoided annually; (11) DOT recognizes the uncertainty of its estimates but emphasized that providing drivers with more time for sleep will lessen fatigue and thereby reduce the number of fatigue-related crashes; and (12) the reasonableness of DOT's assumptions and the resulting estimate of the number of lives that could be saved if the proposed rule is adopted, however, are unknown.

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