Safety is more important than compliance
Transportation Safety Management Today
I recently read this remark in an article in a trade magazine. It struck me as odd right off the bat. The reason? It sounded as if you didn’t have to be compliant to be safe. However, if you are not being compliant, the odds are very good that you may not be safe. Eventually, the things that you are doing that are non-compliant with the regulations will lead to crashes. Why is that? It is because the regulations involved are referred to as the “safety regulations.” They are in place to make sure that carriers that don’t want to operate safely are forced into operating safely.
For a carrier that actually has a “safety culture,” the safety regulations should be easy to comply with. And that operating model – we need to strive for safety, not just compliance – actually was the point of the article (it was just a case of a poorly-worded remark being called out). Let’s look at the main regulation groups and see what each involves, and what a carrier with a solid safety culture is doing.
This part of the regulations (as well as certain sections in Part 391) requires that drivers have the correct license for the vehicle being operated, and that the carrier make sure the driver has the correct license. This is a basic credential. Even though we live in a time where some believe that “expertise” is not necessary and anyone can do any job, safety pros will tell you that a properly licensed and trained driver is generally a safer driver than one that is not, or worse, than one that has lost his/her license. (I recently read a very good book on how most people now believe that there is no need for “experts” in any areas; that anyone could do anyone else’s job.) This is why safety-minded carriers place a lot of emphasis on licensing, and violation and accident reporting in their driver hiring and retention policies. For example, at some carriers, no license suspensions or revocations, and no unreported accidents or citations are allowed. In other words, as well as complying, safety-minded carriers choose to exceed these regulations.
This part in the regulations requires that the carrier operate, and its drivers that operate CDL vehicles be subject to, a specific drug and alcohol testing program. This is another area in the regulations that safety-minded carriers feel is a no-brainer. Having drivers that are under the influence or have active substance abuse problems is a situation that no safety-minded carrier wants to be in. This is why safety-minded carriers do not object to these regulations and follow and enforce them “with a vengeance.”
Part 391 lays out processes carriers must follow to make sure they are hiring and retaining “qualified” drivers. This is another area of regulation that safety-minded carriers have no problem with, since qualified and well trained drivers are who they want working for them. Most of these carriers exceed (by a wide margin) what is required in the regulations. Examples include having hiring standards (must have specific experience, no or few crashes or citations, etc.), having a robust hiring process, using specific medical examiners that the carrier knows are competent and do thorough exams, having an extensive and on-going training program, and doing active performance tracking.
This part in the regulations requires that drivers follow local traffic laws, wear their seat belts, do certain things at rail crossings, adjust their driving to hazardous conditions, use their 4-ways and warning devices when stopped on the roadway, and do not use hand-held cell phones or text while driving. Most safety-minded carriers not only expect these things from their drivers, but they also expect them to drive in compliance with all traffic laws and codes and to drive defensively at all times to avoid traffic problems and accidents.
Parts 393 and 396
These parts require that the company’s vehicles have the necessary parts, accessories, and equipment, and that the company inspect and maintain the vehicles in such a way as to prevent crashes and breakdowns. Here again, safety-minded carriers have no problem with these regulations and generally exceed them by a wide margin.
These regulations, despite all the bluster and noise surrounding them, exist for one reason and one reason only, and that is to prevent drivers from driving while fatigued due to working too many hours. Argue all you want about where the line should be drawn, but there must be a line somewhere and it must be obeyed. The log (paper or electronic) is what proves compliance. Where the line should be is a matter of politics for the president of the company to argue about with the agency (along with other carrier presidents and associations); it is not an operational issue. Operationally, the rules simply must be obeyed.
Safety-minded carriers have dispatchers that schedule the driver’s work to match the regulations and avoid fatigue. These carriers’ drivers are not afraid to call their dispatchers and say that they are “too tired to drive.” Drivers are also not afraid to call and tell their dispatchers that something has happened and that they cannot make delivery due to running out of hours just short of the customer. Safety-minded carriers know these things are going to happen and deal with them accordingly (reschedule, relay, etc.). In other words, they not only follow the rules, but operationally the expectation is that the drivers will follow the rules and not operate when fatigued. Also, back-office auditing and training are done to assure drivers are complying.
A better remark? Safety is the ultimate goal!
After reading this article, hopefully you understand that doing what the regulations require is child’s play compared to what a carrier actually needs to do to be operating safely. Being compliant doesn’t lead to being safe. It takes extra work to make your company into a safety-minded company with a solid safety culture. However, not being compliant will generally lead to not being safe.
This article was featured in the newsletter. Transportation Safety Management Today
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