THE HEAVY driving days of summer point up dramatically the number and power of trucks roaring along America's highways, delivering the goods around the clock. As the size and volume of trucks grow, so does the need for better safety regulation. That's on the docket when Congress motors back into town next month. The Federal Highway Administration needs to weigh in with its own proposals on hours of service by drivers. Meanwhile, the best of the bills addressing truck safety generally is by Sen. John McCain.
It would establish a separate motor carrier safety administration within the Transportation Department (in addition to a division to oversee bus safety issues). It also would require the secretary of transportation to carry out recommendations by the department's inspector general, who reported earlier this year on weaknesses in oversight by the office currently responsible -- fewer than two compliance reviews of trucking companies a month, watered-down penalties, etc.
Another important provision would require states to report and include on a commercial driver's record all traffic violations committed while operating either commercial or personal vehicles. Rules would be changed also to combine driver medical records with the commercial driver's license. Too many serious accidents today involve commercial drivers who should not be on the roads but have been able to withhold records from employers. Better disclosure could remove these risky drivers.
In the House, Chairman Bud Shuster of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, also support creating a new administrative unit concentrating on motor-carrier safety and closing loopholes in the driver's license programs.
Bureaucratic rearrangements alone won't improve federal oversight of truck safety. But if bolstered by tougher standards and more disclosure requirements, an agency concentrating on motor-carrier safety should improve markedly federal efforts to clear the rolling risks off the roads.