Does the FMCSA need to call the Geek Squad?

March-April 2020

Terry Scruton

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My parents are both in their 80s and live in Florida because, well, it’s the law. That’s just what you do when you retire. They do not, insofar as I know, run the IT department at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. I can’t say this with 100% certainty because they are quite feisty and difficult to keep track of at all times. But honestly, it would certainly explain a lot if they did.

I recently spent the better part of an hour on the phone with them trying to walk them through some technological difficulties involving a computer, a smartphone and a video chatting device. It took all of the training I had from watching shows like “The IT Crowd” and “Silicon Valley,” which mostly consisted of me telling them to turn it off and turn it back on again. You laugh, but eventually it worked.

The FMCSA, meanwhile, barely made it under the wire in February when it published the already announced delay to the entry-level driver training rules in the Federal Register.

The delay, they say, is necessary because they need the extra time (two years!) to work on the Training Provider Registry – the online portal that allows training providers to self-certify that they meet the requirements outlined in the rule.

If that sounds familiar it’s because that’s pretty much the same excuse they gave for delaying the requirements for states to begin using the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse – the interface for states to use wasn’t ready yet. And judging by the belly-flop that happened the week the Clearinghouse website opened to the public, that wasn’t the only thing that wasn’t ready.

None of this should come as any surprise to anyone who has followed the news in recent years. The FMCSA just doesn’t seem to have the best luck when it comes to technology. Remember back in 2017 when the Certified Medical Examiner’s website went down for several months? That was a disaster from start to finish, and the lack of communication from the FMCSA only made it worse.

I get it. Technology is hard. These things take time. But to continually delay rules – like entry-level driver training – that would go a long way toward making our roads a much safer place simply because you couldn’t get your technological act together in the more than three years between the time the rule was finalized and the time it was supposed to go into effect is not a good look.

And do I even need to go into the double standard at play here? When truckers asked for more time on the ELD mandate, for example, the answer was, “Nope. Sorry. You’ve had plenty of time to prepare.” But when it’s that same agency that needs more time, well, that’s different because – well – it just is, OK? Deal with it.

We’re trying to be patient, here. We really are. But the entry-level driver training rules are something the entire industry has gotten behind and has been waiting years for. It’s that rare thing that virtually everybody agrees on that will actually make us safer. Yet, we have to wait.

With all of these delays, technological snafus and other problems, clearly something at the FMCSA isn’t working right. Maybe we should turn it off and turn it back on again. LL

Terry Scruton

Terry Scruton brought nine years of journalism experience when he joined Land Line Magazine in 2005, and that experience continues to serve him on the radio show. Terry’s must-read “Roses & Razzberries” is also a popular feature with Land Line Now listeners.