Transportation safety is a top priority, but future safety gains are held back by government red tape that stifles innovation and improvement, according to a new Competitive Enterprise Institute report.

“The best way to improve transportation safety is to replace government micromanaging with performance goals, which would hold industries more accountable and encourage new technologies and practices that improve safety,” says Marc Scribner, CEI senior fellow and author of the new report.

Performance-based safety regulation, defined succinctly, is an “approach that focuses on desired, measurable outcomes, rather than prescriptive processes, techniques, or procedures.” Prescriptive regulations, by contrast, specify the means of compliance, often through detailed design or operating standards that preclude alternative compliance methods, even if those alternatives produce superior outcomes at lower costs.

Despite executive orders from Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama instructing regulatory agencies to rely more on performance objectives, federal regulators have made only limited progress, the group says.

Furthermore the report points to uneven progress being made by departments under the Department of Transportation and suggests developing a holistic performance-based regulatory philosophy that covers all modes, the report concludes.

The report goes into detail on a number of sectors on how improvements can be made.  One area for example is trucking.

Prescriptive trucking safety regulation overseen by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has long been a source of controversy within industry, the agency, and Congress. For example, over the past decade, the industry, unions, and self-styled safety advocates have battled over driver hours-of-service regulations. In 2015, the Trucking Rules Updated by Comprehensive and Key (TRUCK) Safety Reform Act was introduced in the Senate to move the FMCSA toward a performance-based regulatory approach. However, this failed to gain traction and the dispute over the FMCSA’s prescriptive safety regulations continues.

To see analysis of other sectors, see the full report, “Toward Performance-Based Transportation Safety Regulation: Focus on Results Instead of Rigid Rules to Improve Safety and Promote Innovation.”