FMCSA making a run at revamp to carrier safety rating system

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Updated Aug 30, 2023
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Past FMCSA efforts to revamp the safety rating system proposed to lean heavily on carrier SMS data, derived largely from roadside inspections and associated violations. With a new advance proposal, the agency is signaling at least the possibility of reviving that approach with a series of questions for carriers and the public.

Updated August 29, 2023, to reflect publication of an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register, opening a comment period that will close October 30, 2023. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is now seeking public comments on how it can develop a new methodology to determine when a motor carrier is not fit to operate in or affect interstate commerce. To some extent, the move was expected since the agency flagged an intention to examine the safety rating system early in the year. 

The advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM), published in the Federal Register as of Tuesday, Aug. 29, says the agency seeks public comment on:

  • The need for a rulemaking to revise the regulations prescribing the safety rating process
  • The available science or technical information to analyze regulatory alternatives for determining motor carrier safety fitness 
  • Feedback on the agency’s current safety rating regulations, including the process and impacts
  • The available data and costs for regulatory alternatives reasonably likely to be considered
  • Responses to specific questions in the ANPRM

This is FMCSA’s second attempt in fairly recent years to revamp its safety rating methodology. The agency in 2016 proposed ratings based on the carrier’s on-road safety data; an investigation or a combination of on-road safety data and investigation information. FMCSA withdrew that rulemaking when the Trump administration arrived in 2017.

[Related: Owner-operators, industry groups weigh in on 2016’s proposed Safety Fitness Determination rule]

Currently, FMCSA uses an analysis of existing motor carrier data and data collected during a compliance review, either on-site or remotely through a review of records. The agency calculates a vehicle out-of-service rate, reviews crash involvement, and conducts an in-depth examination of a motor carrier’s compliance with the acute and critical regulations and hazmat regulations.

If any factor is assessed one point, that factor is rated as “conditional.” If any factor is assessed two points, that factor is rated as “unsatisfactory.” Two or more individual factors rated as “unsatisfactory” result in an overall Unsatisfactory rating. One individual factor rated as “unsatisfactory” and more than two individual factors rated as “conditional” will also result in an Unsat overall rating.

This current process is “resource-intensive and reaches only a small percentage of carriers,” FMCSA said. In 2019, for example, FMCSA and state partners conducted 11,671 compliance reviews out of a population of more than 567,000 interstate carriers. FMCSA's Safety Measurement System (SMS) -- which the agency called a prioritization system to identify carriers for investigation -- is not currently used in any way in computing safety ratings. 

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The SMS is yet another system FMCSA is in the process of potentially updating. The agency published a notice in February that, if finalized, would reorganize the current Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), simplify violation severity weights, alter intervention thresholds, and more.

[Related: Not comprehensive enough: Trucking responds to FMCSA's proposed CSA-scores changes

The safety-rating-related ANPRM will ask for input on potential new methods of rating. “The intended effect," FMCSA said, "is to more effectively use FMCSA data and resources to identify unfit motor carriers and to remove them from the nation’s roadways." Successful rating methodologies, then, would "target metrics that are most directly connected to safety outcomes; provide for accurate identification of unsafe motor carriers; and incentivize the adoption of safety-improving practices."

FMCSA then asks 12 specific questions related to safety fitness determinations to help guide a potential proposed rulemaking down the road. The full list of questions can be found at the end of this notice. The questions include whether the current three-tiered rating system should be retained, whether SMS data should be used to issue ratings, how driver behavior should be incorporated into ratings, whether the use of safety technologies should be considered in carriers’ ratings, and more.

[Related: FMCSA offering 'kinder, gentler' approach to safety scoring? Not if automated inspections go live]

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