Crashes and interventions: Crackdown!

| May 10, 2013

The article below is part of an ongoing, in-depth series on the U.S. Department of Transportation's Compliance, Safety, Accountability program that analyzes federal inspection, investigation and crash data and offers original reporting. Overdrive and CCJ editors have built a site dedicated to hosting the stories, interactive maps and downloadable data at CCJdigital.com/csa.

Previously in the CSA’s Data Trail “Crashes and interventions” installment: “Wreck frequency varies widely by state”

 

We're closedThe Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been on a tear over the last year with the issuance of imminent-hazard out-of-service orders.

Most have been for bus companies, but search “imminent hazard” at OverdriveOnline.com, and you’ll return notices of more than 10 trucking companies – and three drivers – shut down by the agency in the last year or so. FMCSA statistics show a nearly fivefold increase – 10 to 48 – in imminent-hazard out-of-service orders issued from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2012 for bus and truck fleets. (Most activity has been on the bus side of the motor carrier world — for more about FMCSA’s “Operation Quick Strike” and how its “blitzkrieg probes” of high-risk bus companies will ultimately come to the trucking world, read this story.)

While official numbers from FMCSA show fairly level numbers between fiscal 2011 and 2012, one trucking consultant has seen Unfit ratings and Out-of-Service orders spike for carriers found in serious noncompliance after not following through on a cooperative safety plan —  a kind of do-or-die fix-it list – worked out with the agency during interventions.

Under Administrator Anne Ferro’s leadership, it’s clear the agency is taking a tougher hand with what it considers “high risk” carriers.

FMCSA interventions

Following the raft of warning letters that went out in 2011, FMCSA has sent out far fewer letters, which representatives say is an indication that the letters prompted the desired compliance improvements. Onsite investigations resulting from carriers’ lack of improvements, however, are moving away from full compliance reviews or comprehensive investigations to focused looks at compliance problems as indicated by a carrier’s CSA BASIC scores. Such focused attention allowed the agency to get their hands into the inner workings of about 10 percent more businesses in 2012.

Why interventions occur
Interventions are initiated at federal and state levels. They can be as intensive as traditional full compliance reviews – called “onsite comprehensive investigations” under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability system – with potential to impact a company’s safety rating. They can be as simple as a letter warning you of a CSA Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) percentile ranking approaching the threshold at which FMCSA may prioritize you for investigation.

For many years, FMCSA officials say, any high-profile crash – something involving multiple fatalities that is the fault of the carrier or a significant event that draws media attention – has triggered an investigation. The MAP-21 highway bill passed last year also has given the agency more firepower in its efforts to be decisive in shutting carriers down.

As FMCSA steps up its enforcement, two areas stand out as intervention triggers: the Hours of Service Compliance and, foremost, Vehicle Maintenance BASICs, says Richard Wilson, regulatory manager for Trans Products Trans Services, a compliance services provider. According to federal data analyzed by RigDig Business Intelligence and reported by Overdrive in March, maintenance infractions make up 71 percent of all violations found during the first two years of the CSA program, with hours 9 percent – the next biggest share among the BASICs. Wilson’s observation is based on his work supporting generally smaller carriers during investigations. Crashes have triggered about 10 percent of the recent interventions in which he’s been a party.

Phil McGuire, president of Temple, Texas-based 100-truck fleet McGuire Transportation, had FMCSA in his office in March for a full compliance review after a roadside inspection initiated by a driver’s erratic on-road behavior, a result of overuse of a prescribed medication. “He was put out of service and subsequently terminated,” McGuire says. “That was a year ago, and then basically I received a phone call saying you’re going to go through a compliance review” – his company’s second in as many years.

Aegirson Enterprises owner-operator Scott Lawrence also went through a full audit of his operations the day after Christmas last year. Being his first such audit since he obtained motor carrier authority in 2004, it satisfied the new entrant audit requirement, according to a final report he supplied. For motor carriers obtaining carrier authority today, FMCSA says, what’s more common is an on-time audit, meaning the review occurs within the first year.

Interventions also can occur over actions of a single employed driver, particularly with respect to hours violations, and drivers increasingly are held accountable for their mistakes. In the worst such case he’s seen, a carrier that Wilson declined to name scrambled to put together a plan for their new entrant audit after sitting on six months of logs with no review. To protect itself, the carrier made drivers sign documents saying it had reviewed their logs and warned those drivers in violation. Those who refused to sign left the company or were fired. One driver who stayed ultimately was issued a $4,000 fine after FMCSA’s investigation uncovered patterns of violations. The carrier got a Satisfactory safety rating with no penalties.

Mission creep
The trend in carrier investigations is away from the traditional compliance review and toward the focused investigation, often resulting in no change to a carrier’s safety rating, still part of the older SafeStat system of rating pending a Safety Fitness Determination rulemaking to tie rating to the CSA Safety Measurement System.

Nearly half of the 200 Overdrive reader respondents to this March poll probing FMCSA’s intervention activity reported seeing direct contact from the agency since the advent of CSA in December 2010.

Nearly half of the 200 Overdrive reader respondents to this March poll probing FMCSA’s intervention activity reported seeing direct contact from the agency since the advent of CSA in December 2010.

An analysis of the top 100 carriers listed in CCJ’s 2012 Top 250 list shows that among the 30 carriers on the list who’ve seen some kind of investigation since the beginning of 2012, 23 of those actions were onsite focused investigations or reviews that resulted in no change to company safety ratings.

Yet Wilson has seen a dynamic time and time again during these so-called “nonratable” reviews – namely, the “creep” of the investigators’ activity from a focused investigation into something that more functionally resembles a full compliance review.

Say FMCSA or state partners come in for a review of a company’s hours-of-service compliance. “An experienced auditor or field agent for FMCSA can very quickly get a feel for the overall compliance program a company has set up,” says Wilson. “They look at it this way – if you’re lacking in one area, you’re going to be lacking over here in another. They say, ‘While we’re here, why don’t you pull me a couple of qualification files on these particular drivers here?’ and they review them. They’ll look for the basics. Are medical cards up to date? Did you do an annual review of the driver’s MVR and annual summary to see they’re still qualified? We like to say in our business, ‘Organization shows compliance.’ ”

“Focused investigations may result in an adverse rating (Unsatisfactory or Conditional), but not a Satisfactory rating,” says FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne, so it’s a no-win situation for the carrier being investigated. Unless a Safety Fitness Determination rulemaking were to change the status quo, the only way to get a Satisfactory rating today continues to be as a result of the traditional compliance review.

Smaller carriers at risk
Including new entrant audits, FMCSA performed 54,559 carrier reviews/investigations in fiscal 2012. That number represents about one-eighth of all active carriers with U.S. Department of Transportation operating authority. While the largest 100 carriers were investigated at a greater rate – almost a third have seen some kind of a review since the beginning of 2012 – most if not all such carriers operate with the benefit of dedicated compliance staffers.

Working with CCJ and RigDig Business Intelligence, a division of Overdrive publisher Randall-Reilly Business Media, we analyzed crash data over years 2010-12 and inspection and scoring data covering CSA’s first two years. Find further “Crashes and interventions” installments via this page, where you can also access interactive maps for crash and inspection data and downloads for such data for all 48 continental U.S. states.

Working with CCJ and RigDig Business Intelligence, a division of Overdrive publisher Randall-Reilly Business Media, we analyzed crash data over years 2010-12 and inspection and scoring data covering CSA’s first two years. Find further pieces of the “Crashes and interventions” installment via this page, where you can also access interactive maps for state crash and inspection data, downloads for such data for all 48 continental U.S. states and our prior “Inconsistent enforcement” and “Who’s keeping score” installments in the series.

Smaller carriers have “more expenses and lower incoming revenue, but we’ve got to place more resources toward safety and compliance,” says Wilson. “There’s just a basic lack of funds to dedicate to it.” Too many, he says, “put it all off until the proverbial you-know-what hits the fan, and then they come to us and say, ‘What can you do for us?’ ”

Many small fleets find it cost-effective to invest in tools such as management software, log-auditing services, electronic logging and/or driver vehicle inspection report systems, prepared drug-and-alcohol policies and administration, driver qualification filing systems and more to help manage compliance proactively. Some of those tools are available from entities such as Texas-based Compliance Safety Systems, the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, J.J. Keller & Associates and others, including Wilson’s firm.

When compliance efforts fall short and an audit results, there also is help available. McGuire used an outside audit-support specialist during his carrier’s compliance review this year.

Owner-operator Lawrence handled his own himself, a tactic McGuire says seems appropriate for a one-truck operation. “As one person, you can probably keep up with your records well enough, and you know where you’re at,” he says. Start adding trucks and drivers, though, and “you’re not quite sure about your records all the time. With me, I feel pretty confident about it, but I wanted a second set of experienced eyes on it” to boost that confidence.

“If you have an intervention, take it seriously,” Wilson says. If you can afford the help, get a compliance specialist to “give you directions and guidance.”

If patterns of violations are found, it often results in a cooperative safety plan, says Wilson. “If you don’t meet the requirements of those CSPs and they come back in, the next step could be a cease-and-desist-operations order.”

Wilson says issuance of those orders he’s seen has been “double what it was a year ago. … The smaller carrier can’t pay the same money as the top 100, so we find ourselves in the position of trying to help the carrier stay in business and going out of our way to provide them the same services offered to the bigger carriers.”

Following find our video interview with Wilson, in which he describes how hairy things can get following a focused hours or maintenance intervention from the FMCSA or one of its state partners.



  • http://www.facebook.com/ken.nilsen Ken Nilsen

    The company I am associated with just underwent an intervention. It is changing the way we do business for sure. Sadly this really hurts the most efficient operators. For instance we now are matching logs to comdata receipts. Many times I am sitting for a long weekend bobtail and I fuel multiple times in order to build up showers on my card. I can no longer do this because it will kill my 34 hour restart. That may seem petty to some, but 10 to 12 dollars a shower adds up really fast.

  • magicmilly

    That’s a very good example and one of many that no one understands with all these ridiculous rules. All the politicians give lip service to creating jobs what about job retention– they do everything they can to kill jobs, especially trucking whether you’re on the highway or in the woods.

  • martymarsh

    I couldn’t be bothered reading all of this money making scam, but here is the real truth.

    For the most part people don’t care about other people that get killed in accidents unless they know them, but they will still yell for new laws to stop these massacres.
    To prove this is about nothing more than the dollar, how many people jump in to the driver seat saying, hey, maybe I will go out and kill some people today.
    Yes we need laws that make people responsible, but they are over regulating because they know there is a lot of money in trucking, as drivers you may not see it and your boss may tell you different, but it is there.
    But the real problem lies with teaching, when you have people teaching with 6 months experience, teaching what they don’t know, is the problem.
    There are some companies in this industry that never have any problems with the law, and it just so happens that these same companies are the ones teaching these new people how to drive, need I say anymore.
    Another problem is harassment, and if you don’t believe that goes on you are either an ass kisser or you live under a rock.
    Everything is about the dollar and control, which is about the dollar.
    Commercial drivers have to know more laws than a pilot, and don’t get paid half as much, what is wrong with this picture.

  • Mr. NA

    HOW ABOUT A SHUT DOWN JUNE 3-6TH ? PLAN YOUR VACATION NOW TO SPEND TIME RELAXING WITH LOVED ONES.

  • localnet

    I hope I am finished with this industry… TODAY! I got a line on a non DOT/Trucking job, waiting on final approval to start, hopefully in the next few hours. With the new CSA rules coming on July 1st, 2013… It is honestly getting old, we are treated as criminals out here by all of these agencies. I’m done. They can go find a guy with 24 years and a squeaky clean record somewhere else. You can stick a fork in me, I AM DONE.

  • USMC 69-75

    Have you ever tried pulling a plane over, mid flight for an inspection? We are an easier target, more fines, less money…..the math is easy!

  • martymarsh

    That is kind of a stupid question isn’t it, when it would be obvious that they are inspected on the ground. We are an easier target because we let ourselves be. That is because no one has a back bone to stand up to these clowns. How many times have you heard of other countries truckers going on strike? Things won’t get any better until we do something about it, and not to be a smart ass but, after 39 years of this I’m kind of looking for solutions not the obvious.

  • USMC 69-75

    What’s stupid about it? They are inspected at the terminal, as we inspect our vehicles numerous times a day (at least a professional does)
    But it was meant as a joke, as is the DOT! I can’t say how many trucks I see with bald tires, light out, yellow tail lights etc.etc…. wander why we get harassed? We need to start acting like professionals, and get people organized to form a real shut down! Will this happen, sorry to many steering wheel holders out there that want to do nothing but complain!
    After 40 + years…..I am tired of dealing with it, so I run local, no log book, IRP, IFTA….running under my own authority, for over 20 years. Don’t worry about DOT.

  • martymarsh

    Get back out on the road and you won’t be saying don’t worry about the DOT. I hauled gas for 8 years locally and never had a problem with them either. As far as everyone getting together, that won’t happen, we can talk until we are blue in the face. The system is corrupt and it is about money, plain and simple.

  • USMC 69-75

    marty,
    We are on the same page, but I choose this road years ago…..I saw it coming, and I enjoyed long haul, but not the red tape, and running on your own authority, makes it even harder, with the rules and regs. So I choose to run local, and don’t want to go back out there, unless in an RV!
    Yes it is all about the money, and when they incarsurate young people for stupid things like saying something on face book, or what they do with their poptart……what are we going to do with these steering wheel holders, that don’t want to lose their jobs, or O/O’s that say I have bills to pay and can’t afford to lose my truck? I don’t haul cheap freight, I have tried to get drivers going through Houston one night to form a convoy in solidarity for the trucks that were going to DC several years ago…..you think I could get one truck to join me! Not! as long as they keep us divided, they don’t have to worry about us. Now we have to deal with the influx of mex and candian trucks…..Why do you think the got this NAFTA carp going for, to keep us down!
    Yes! It is about money and control!
    But as long as I can control my own destiny, I’m choosing what is best for me, the sheeple will be sheeple, and you, nor can change their mind!

  • martymarsh

    Now that was well said and right on the money, we are on the same page. I’m retired and don’t know If I should even care anymore, why fight for people that won’t help themselves. But it still gets to me.

  • USMC 69-75

    I know bro…..me too, not just our industry, but our country as well!

  • martymarsh

    That’s the reason no one is making any money and all these new rules, corrupt politicians milking the country for everything it’s worth. 1.5 billion to Egypt, that we happen to have just laying around, and that’s yearly, not a one time gift.