CSA reform package in highway bill includes added incentive/bonus program for motor carriers

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The FAST Act highway bill signed into law Dec. 4, along with a raft of provisions that in some ways pulled back the reins on the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program’s Safety Measurement System, also included a section intended to be a potential addition to the program. Section 5223 of the H.R. 22 bill, headed “Beyond compliance,” detailed several additional requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration over the next 18 months, the same length of time the bill gave FMCSA to address several issues with the CSA SMS and report back to Congress.

The highway bill’s “Beyond compliance” directives require FMCSA to develop and implement in that time an incentive system for carriers that gives credit either in the CSA SMS or via some other methodology in the CSA program to carriers who do one of several things in their safety investments and operations. According to the bill’s text, credits are to be required for motor carriers who do one or a combination of the following:

    • install advanced safety equipment,
    • use enhanced driver fitness measures
    • adopt fleet safety management tools, technologies and programs
    • or satisfy an as-yet-unspecified set of other “standards determined appropriate by the Administrator.”

The “Beyond Compliance” program’s inclusion in the highway bill ensures its regulatory pursuit. And the final bulleted item above leaves wide open credit possibilities.

Among incentives discussed for participation in a “Beyond Compliance” program were reduction in carriers’ Inspection Selection System scores, numbers utilized by bypass systems and law enforcement to help determine who to inspect.Among incentives discussed for participation in a “Beyond Compliance” program were reduction in carriers’ Inspection Selection System scores, numbers utilized by bypass systems and law enforcement to help determine who to inspect.

But this isn’t the first to be heard of it. FMCSA launched a request for comments on such an initiative in April last year, as previously reported, following a March “Beyond compliance” discussion by the agency’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. The committee discussed possibilities for credit-worthy activities in its September-issued letter to FMCSA. Among them were carrier use of technologies such as various collision mitigation systems, speed limiters and electronic logs; management practices, including driver training of various kinds, that promote safety; and compensation models/levels that promote safety, such as incentive programs.

The MCSAC’s 42-page document outlining the course of its March discussion and recommendations is available for download at this link.

MCSAC also recommended that a third party, rather than FMCSA, administer the program. Language in the highway bill explicitly enables such an option, but leaves the decision up to the agency.

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Organizations that filed comments in response to FMCSA’s early-year request warned against structuring the program such that it becomes nothing more than a way of rewarding one group of carriers for doing some they already do. Of particular issue was investment in leading-edge technologies, more common among the larger fleets. Noted the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Alliance in its comments, “Although similar concepts have proven more successful with larger motor carriers in other jurisdictions around the globe, it is critical that the Beyond Compliance program be inclusive of all sectors of the motor carrier industry, including smaller motor carriers.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association urged against locking in on specific technologies within any such incentive program and characterized FMCSA’s flawed CSA SMS as evidence of FMCSA having perhaps “already set up the system it is proposing.” The SMS “was intended to reflect a motor carrier’s safety efforts,” OOIDA said. “Carriers are free to adopt the technologies being discussed. Many large motor carriers have been using some of this technology for years, and whatever improvements in safety performance to be gained are already being reflected in the SMS system. Therefore, to a large extent, carriers are now asking to be granted indulgences from further enforcement because they bought certain technology that did not afford them such relief in the SMS system.”

With SMS percentiles currently withheld from public view by Congressional directive and a revamp of the SMS getting under way, the agency has been forced to act on what might have been OOIDA’s principle “Beyond Compliance”-related recommendation: “The best solution is for FMCSA to keep refining its Safety Measurement System to truly reflect the at-fault crash experience of motor carriers. SMS scores should report an objective measure of safety – not a percentile ranking with an arbitrary dividing line of safe and unsafe carriers. Improvements in the objectivity of the SMS system will reward safe motor carriers and improve public safety by whatever technology the marketplace decides has a real impact on safety, or through programs and practices that do not rely upon technology.”

The American Trucking Associations, while applauding attention to a potential program that would “help alter a challenging paradigm by changing FMCSA from an agency that takes an enforcement-centric approach to one that recognizes the safety benefits of incenting and rewarding safe behavior,” also recognized challenges to implementation.

A “robust menu” of incentives to participate, ATA said, “that can entice motor carries of all sizes and from all segments of the industry to participate” it viewed as essential for a successful program.

In addition to SMS credits of some kind, reduction of carrier Inspection Selection System scores, utilized by bypass programs and law enforcement as a marker of inspection priority at the roadside, has likewise been discussed.

Relief from existing regulations, such as bonus hours flexibility or another incentive, however, CVSA warned against: “The Beyond Compliance program should not include any relief from existing regulations or requirements. The purpose of such a program is to recognize motor carriers who go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Releasing participating motor carriers from the minimum requirements is inappropriate and in direct conflict with the purpose of the program. CVSA strongly opposes any effort to do so.”

Browse further commentary in the regulations.gov docket folder at this link.

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