House bill would require FMCSA to update carrier safety rating regs

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Updated Feb 14, 2023

New legislation introduced last week would, if passed, require the Department of Transportation to enact a Safety Fitness Determination test for trucking companies, as well as require manufacturers, shippers and brokers to ensure trucking companies are licensed, registered and insured before using their services.

The bipartisan Motor Carrier Safety Selection Act was introduced by Reps. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisconsin) and Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts).

If passed, the bill would require shippers and brokers to use carriers that are not deemed unfit to operate safely under current federal regulations, whether that means having an Unsatisfactory rating or whose authority is otherwise out of service. Additionally, within 18 months of the bill’s passage, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would be required to issue a rulemaking to update and revise its regulations to provide a procedure for determining if a motor carrier is not fit to operate. The vision bill supporters have for the future in some ways resembles past proposals, differing in other ways. 

"When manufacturers select trucking companies to ship their products, they are left without any standard to ensure those trucks are safe or fit to be on the road,” Gallagher said. “The lack of a data-driven method to help manufacturers pick the best carriers has led to hundreds of thousands of accidents on roads and highways."

Ben Campbell, Chief Legal Officer for C.H. Robinson, said the bill would not only improve highway safety, but it would also help small carriers looking to work with shippers and brokers.

“Some shippers and brokers have already begun excluding motor carriers from their networks based on their own assessment of who is ‘safe’ and who is not,” Campbell said. “This harms small carriers with five trucks or fewer who make up 90% of the market. Shippers and brokers should be able to rely on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and their trained safety experts to keep the motoring public safe."

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The Transportation Intermediaries Association, representing brokers and other freight intermediaries, voiced support for the bill, with TIA President and CEO Anne Reinke noting the “current carrier selection processes lack clarity,” adding that the bill “establishes a robust and clear rating process and improves highway safety.” 

TIA is also advocating for FMCSA to "shift away from the outdated and ineffective current physical audit system" toward an offsite audit-focused system. In the current four-tier carrier safety rating system, many carriers may be classified with a "Conditional" safety rating for years waiting on an FMCSA audit, or have no rating at all. This leaves owner-operators and small fleets in those categories "between a rock and a hard place in terms of if they should be utilized or not" by brokers and shippers, said Chris Burroughs, VP of Government Affairs for TIA. 

Burroughs added that 92% of carriers today are unrated, and TIA is advocating for a way to further validate those carriers to determine whether they are safe. 

[Related: FMCSA's safety ratings trend sharply negative: A majority issued in 2021 were 'Conditional']

"We're looking for a fair system that's fair to trucking companies, no matter their size," Burroughs said, adding that TIA wants to see FMCSA "move to a single red light, green light -- either a carrier is safe or unsafe... We want carriers out there operating without having to worry about their safety rating status of conditional or unrated."

What's TIA advocates for in this regard is in some ways similar to the Motor Carriers for Regulatory Reform coalition's past advocacy for an at least biennial “desktop audit” conducted offsite (akin to an offsite version of FMCSA’s new entrant audits in some ways) of every carrier in the nation as perhaps the best solution to safety assessment possible for the universe of motor carriers. That's in light of the difficulty of accurately assessing small carriers with a data-based approach, such as that envisioned by FMCSA's previously proposed Safety Fitness Determination rule in 2016. The rule was withdrawn the next year. The 2016 rule would have integrated 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.

[Related: Despite shifts in DOT policy, safety ratings for owner-ops still hard to come by]

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