The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced Jan. 15 a rulemaking proposal designed to update FMCSA’s safety rating methodology by integrating on-road safety data from inspections, along with the results of carrier investigations and crash reports, to determine a motor carrier’s overall safety fitness on a monthly updated basis.
The proposed Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rule would replace the current three-tier federal rating system of “Satisfactory, Conditional and Unsatisfactory” for federally regulated commercial motor carriers (in place since 1982) with a single determination of Unfit, which would require the carrier to either improve its operations or shut down.
“Using all available information to achieve more timely assessments will allow us to better identify unsafe companies and get them off the road,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
“Carriers that we identify as unfit to operate will be removed from our roadways until they improve,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling.
Once in place, the agency believes the rule will enable it to properly assess the safety fitness of approximately 75,000 companies a month. By comparison, the agency is only able to investigate 15,000 motor carriers annually under the current system, with less than half of those companies even receiving a safety rating.
Two data sources underlie the methodology the agency proposes to use: Investigation results and roadside inspection/violation data, the latter the same data compiled and measured by the CSA Safety Measurement System. The FAST Act highway bill last December required the SMS’ analytical measurements to be pulled from public view after widespread, long-running criticism.
Under the SFD, five of the same seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) (excluding the Crash Indicator and the Controlled Substances/Alcohol categories) will be analyzed for potential failure. A carrier’s on-highway performance in relation to a fixed failure threshold established in the rule for those five BASICs — Hours of Service Compliance, Driver Fitness, Unsafe Driving, Vehicle Maintenance and Hazardous Materials — will be considered.
Failure of any two will result in an unfit rating.
When assessing roadside inspection data results, the proposal uses as threshold of 11 inspections with violations in a single BASIC within a 24-month period as its data-minimum standard. Until that level of activity is reached in at least one BASIC, a motor carrier will not be eligible to be identified as “unfit.” If a carrier’s individual performance meets or exceeds the failure standards in the rule, it would then fail that BASIC. The failure standard will be fixed by the eventual final rule, the agency proposes. A carrier’s status in relation to that fixed measure would not be affected by other carriers’ performance, a key difference from the percentile scores computed within the CSA SMS in each BASIC.
The Unfit determination, ultimately, is proposed to occur with a carrier’s failure of any two BASICs, whether as a result of roadside violations, investigatory findings, or a combination of both.
Another similarity to the SMS is the SFD’s weighting of violations according to how recently they occurred. FMCSA’s expected utilization of elements of its SMS within this rule brought allegations of impending violations of the FAST Act highway bill’s CSA reform and other provisions from a coalition of motor carrier groups earlier this week, as reported in this post to the Channel 19 blog. The FAST Act’s language relative to safety fitness determinations, the coalition argues, among other things requires that FMCSA conduct the Congressionally-required review of, and make recommended changes to, the CSA SMS before releasing any SFD rule.
Asked directly about these charges again upon release of the SFD rule this morning, FMCSA spokesman Duane Debruyne declined the opportunity to comment.
Also as reported this week, motor carrier CSA SMS BASIC scores as a matter of public consumption are no longer part of the SMS — as a result of another FAST Act requirement — available only privately.
FMCSA estimates that under this proposal, fewer than 300 motor carriers each year would be proposed as “unfit” solely as a result of on-road safety violations. Further, the agency’s analysis has shown that the carriers identified through this on-road safety data exhibit crash rates of almost four times the national average.
But in addition to roadside data, the new SFD would also draw on traditional compliance review-type investigations for failure determinations in each BASIC. Failure of a BASIC based on either crash data (the Crash Indicator BASIC) or compliance with drug and alcohol requirements (Controlled Substances/Alcohol) would only occur after a follow-on comprehensive investigation.
The proposal’s publication in the Federal Register, expected next week Thursday, Jan. 21, also will mark the advent of a 60-day public comment period on the provisions. FMCSA will be providing a reply comment period allowing for an additional 30 days for commenters to respond to initial commentary.
More detailed information on FMCSA’s proposal is available via FMCSA.dot.gov/sfd.