FMCSA’s enforcement authority growth spurt

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In a “Smart session” held in conjunction with the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas Aug. 22, Compliance Safety Systems head David Saunders connected the dots between provisions written into the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) highway bill and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s broadening authority to take action to shut down what it deems as high-risk carriers.

Today, as outlined in this story, part of our May installments in the CSA’s Data Trail series, the process continues to be tied to on-site investigations. Increasingly, however, carriers’ rankings in the CSA Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories play a role. If and when the Safety Fitness Determination rulemaking makes its way through the Congress, the process could well become increasingly more of a matter of roadside data analysis.

A carrier is high-risk if…
1. Its ranking in the Unsafe Driving, Hours of Service Compliance or Crash Indicator BASIC exceeds 85 and

2. It has a ranking above intervention/ alert threshold in one other BASIC.


1. It has rankings above intervention/ alert threshold in four or more SMS BASICs.

Section 31135 of the Title 49 of the U.S. Code was amended in the highway bill to broaden DOT authority to “withhold, suspend, amend, or revoke” carriers’ and/or drivers’ and company officers’ operating-authority registrations if patterns of noncompliance were seen. FMCSA’s ongoing “quick strike” probes of “high-risk” passenger carriers are evidence of such authority in action, the agency working in part from the CSA BASICs to identify compliance under-performing bus lines to determine who exactly deserves a visit. 

The Unified Registration System, published as a final rule just this week, sets up a centralized database of information on carriers (and other entities) involved in interstate commerce. Once all 50 states are communicating vehicle registration information to URS via the Performance and Registration Information System Management (PRISM) Program, Saunders suggested FMCSA would have a powerful tool in its ability to take action against carriers showing patterns of noncompliance, offering the agency the ability to suspend vehicle registrations.

“The only reason they have not gone out and taken a bunch of registrations is because the states aren’t communicating with the system yet,” Saunders said, but just as “if you can’t get a load, you can’t start the business, if you can’t get insurance, you can’t stay in business.” 

CSA Lawsuit
Arguments in the lawsuit against FMCSA over particulars of the CSA program brought by the Alliance for Safe, Efficient and Competitive Truck Transportation (ASECTT) are scheduled for Sept. 10, Saunders noted, just around the corner. The D.C. Circuit Court where the case is being heard “doesn’t play,” Saunders noted.

His “hunch” prognosis for the suit, which argues that FMCSA abdicated its authority by encouraging shippers, brokers and other carriers to use its CSA Safety Measurement System for business decisions like carrier selection, was that the court  â€świll go back and order FMCSA to change the algorithms” that determine how the scores are computed, ultimately, to better reflect crash risk.