Rockefeller Remarks on Reauthorization of the Motor Carrier Safety Programs

July 21, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The commercial truck and bus industry is a vital part of our nation’s economic strength, allowing goods, services, and people to travel throughout the country. This is especially true in West Virginia, where people and businesses rely on a safe, efficient highway transportation network to support a rural economy.

Yet, its importance is overshadowed every time we hear about a fatal bus or truck crash. These tragedies shake the public’s faith in the motor carrier industry’s commitment to safety and the federal government’s ability to provide proper safety oversight.

The Department of Transportation’s recent “get tough” actions to shut down unsafe bus companies and aggressive pursuit of better safety regulations are crucial steps. However, we must do more to guarantee that the traveling public receives the level of safety that they expect and deserve.

That is why today’s hearing to examine proposals to reauthorize the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) truck and bus safety programs is so important.

The commercial truck and bus industry is very large—there are more than half a million carriers in operation today. And every year, more than 3,600 Americans are killed due to truck and bus related accidents. FMCSA has limited resources to oversee all of these carriers, inspecting less than three percent of these carriers each year. So, we need to make sure that FMCSA has the data it needs to better identify unsafe carriers and drivers and get them off of our roads before tragedy strikes. We must make sure that new carriers demonstrate their commitment to safety before being allowed to operate, and we must immediately remove operators when they prove to be dangerous.

As we head into the surface transportation reauthorization process, we are all aware that funding for programs may be more limited. While it’s not ideal, we shouldn’t let the reality of limited funding jeopardize our safety. We have to make smart choices about the future of our safety on the road. Smart choices that equip FMSCA with the tools they need to do its job today will help secure our safety tomorrow.

And my hope is that we can do this in a bipartisan manner. Just last week, I joined Chairman Lautenberg, Ranking Member Hutchison and Senator Sherrod Brown to announce a bipartisan agreement on the Motorcoach Enhanced Safety Act. This bill will help give America’s traveling public the sense of safety and security they deserve when traveling our nation’s roadways. Further, Chairman Lautenberg’s bill includes even more safety improvements for the truck and bus industry. I thank him for his commitment to this important issue.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how we can improve the safety of our commercial truck and bus industry as well as how we can make the smart choices to meet the safety needs of our highway transportation network as a whole.