In six months leading the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Ray Martinez has won praise across the trucking industry for asking questions instead of making statements. A little humor hasn’t hurt either.
“One of the things I’ve found in executive positions is you’ve got to be a good listener. Stop talking for a little bit and let other people talk,” Martinez told Trucks.com. “That will help you run an organization, and it will help you deal with your stakeholders. Don’t tell your stakeholders what they should think.”
Listening is a trait that has served Martinez throughout a career working in the White House, the State Department and running departments of motor vehicles in New York and New Jersey. Both have twice as many employees as his agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“He listens, and then when you start hearing him speak and take positions they are well-informed positions,” said Chris Spear, chief executive of the American Trucking Associations. “I like that about him. I think everybody in the industry feels that way. And I think it’s going to reflect good policy.”
Martinez’s first policy change will probably involve rules that restrict drivers to 11 hours behind the wheel in a 14-hour period. Those hours-of-service regulations became a big issue after the FMCSA started enforcing electronic data logs in December 2017. The digital devices automatically log driving hours. Martinez became administrator in March. He immediately heard industry complaints that ELDs and hours-of-service restrictions were causing some trips to take longer and contributing to a freight backlog.
The FMCSA issued an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking Aug. 21 to add flexibility to hours-of-service rules without increasing driving time. The agency has received more than 1,500 submissions in the first 2 ½ weeks of a 30-day public comment period.
“He emphasized over and over how he likes to hear from grass roots because he hears too much of the rhetoric of D.C.,” said Todd Spencer, president of the 161,000-member Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. The OOIDA is a frequent critic of regulations it claims do not improve trucking safety, including compliance, safety, accountability, or CSA, audits. That program went into effect in 2010 to find truckers who posed the greatest safety risks on the road.
“He understands that we’re not always going to agree,” Spencer said. “But there’s a lot of issues where we do. If we can learn to work together, we can make it better for everyone.”
Balancing Washington bureaucracy with meaningful safety regulation is difficult. That’s one reason Martinez has hosted four public listening sessions. Three focused on automated and autonomous driving. The first of several on proposed hours-of-service changes occurred last month.
Humor has helped him make audiences comfortable. At one session in June, he introduced himself as a “recovering lawyer.”
Except for brief stints in the Queens, N.Y., district attorney’s office and at a medium-size law practice, Martinez is a career civil servant.
In the 1980s, he was deputy director of scheduling and advance for First Lady Nancy Reagan. In 2005, he held the No. 2 post in the protocol office of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
“When you say deputy chief of protocol, everybody thinks you are handing out hors d’oeuvres and pouring wine,” Martinez said.
The job was more like a sheriff, keeping tabs on diplomats and their families. He tactfully handled cases of misused immunity. Several family members and staff of diplomats chose to go home instead of taking a trip through the U.S. court system during his tenure.
“We always treated foreign diplomats as good as we could because [our diplomats] have great exposure in countries that don’t have the same rule of law that we do.”
Martinez’s leadership of two departments of motor vehicles prepared him to lead FMCSA, he said.
“To be motor vehicle commissioner before and after 9/11… introduced me to testifying before legislative bodies.”