'A Rude Awakening'

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gears up to go live with major safety regulations this fall

By Deidre Bello, associate editor

  • FMCSA will switch to a new Safety Measurement System – which is organized by seven behavior analysis safety improvement categories – from the current SafeStat system.
  • Although most industry and safety advocates support the goals of CSA 2010, some still have concerns with operation and methodology details.
  • Industry and safety advocates have warned that the fleet safety professional will need to take a larger role in ensuring drivers and motor carriers are aware of how the new safety performance methodology is calculated.

For Minnesota motor carriers participating in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s pilot study for a new operational system to monitor safety performance, the new system was a huge change.

“Many carriers had quite a rude awakening,” said John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association, based in Roseville. In May 2009, some motor carriers that had good ratings one day discovered they had bad ratings the next day – even though nothing had changed in the carriers’ operations, Hausladen said. In addition, hundreds of motor carriers received warning letters stating they were deficient and case files had been opened to monitor compliance. The change, Hausladen said, was the result of the way data was pulled through the new system.

Motor carriers nationwide soon could have a similar experience. On Nov. 30, FMCSA is scheduled to go live with its new Safety Measurement System to monitor the performance of motor carriers and commercial motor vehicle drivers. SMS, part of FMCSA’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative, was developed in response to an apparent plateau in the rate of decline of fatal crashes involving CMVs. It is organized by seven behavior analysis safety improvement categories (known as BASICs):

  • Cargo-related
  • Controlled substances and alcohol
  • Crash indicator
  • Driver fitness
  • Fatigued driving (hours of service)
  • Unsafe driving
  • Vehicle maintenance

SMS will replace the current SafeStat system, which relies on four safety measurement categories and a compliance review. For the most part, industry and safety stakeholders have been supportive of CSA 2010 goals, but concerns about operation and methodology remain. Some organizations also are concerned that FMCSA is moving too quickly to make safety ratings public before correcting glitches. Hausladen and other trucking experts warn motor carriers, fleet safety professionals and CMV drivers to stay engaged with FMCSA to be ready for this major switch.

Concerns and responses

FMCSA officials say the goal of CSA 2010 is to achieve a greater reduction in large-truck and bus crashes, injuries, and fatalities, while maximizing the resources of the agency and its state partners. The system was originally set to go live in July, but FMCSA postponed the launch due to concerns from the trucking industry and safety advocates, as well as preliminary findings from a pilot study of six test states conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor.

In June, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Highways and Transit Subcommittee convened a hearing on CSA 2010. Speaking on behalf of the American Trucking Associations, Keith Klein, executive vice president and COO of Transportation Corporation of America, said ATA supports the CSA 2010 initiative because it addresses long-standing problems with the current monitoring and enforcement program. He also said the initiative is “based on safety performance rather than compliance with paperwork requirements; focuses limited enforcement resources on specific areas of deficiency, rather than on comprehensive on-site audits; and it will eventually provide real-time, updated safety performance measures.” However, Klein said ATA still had concerns about how the initiative would handle accountability of truck-involved crashes before entering them into a carrier’s record.

Norita Taylor, spokesperson for the Grain Valley, MO-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said confusion and misunderstanding exists about how CSA 2010 would affect how the trucking industry operates and how safety is measured. One rumor being circulated was that the initiative would eliminate hundreds of thousands of commercial driver’s licenses. Taylor said the system’s purpose is not to eliminate or take away CDLs; rather, it is intended to organize the way safety is rated and more proactively remove drivers or motor carriers with consistent chronic problems, or intervene more quickly.

Taylor said OOIDA does not see a need to challenge CSA 2010 but still has two concerns about the SMS methodology:

  • Excluding crash accountability in the ratings when the truck driver is not at fault
  • The quality of crash and inspection data reported by states to FMCSA

“Not all 50 states are equal in how they report data,” Taylor said. “If you’re in a state that is really bad at reporting data upstream, then your information is not going to be as up to date as someone who resides in another state.”

OOIDA and other advocates also are concerned with carriers’ inability to change inaccurate data before it is made public. Taylor anticipates an increase in the number of members requesting assistance on how to use the DataQs system to file concerns about federal and state data that FMCSA releases to the public. FMCSA officials recently said the agency is working with state partners to provide guidance on the management of the request-for-data review process and has formed a committee to develop standardized procedures, and a subcommittee is reviewing motor carriers’ due process rights during various stages of the appeals process. Another concern is whether or not small companies will be able to afford to fight alleged violations and citations. FMCSA officials have acknowledged that small carriers might not have a safety director on staff, and suggested those carriers consider pooling resources to hire a contractor to periodically make safety visits to multiple carriers. Minnesota Trucking Association officials said safety professionals and small motor carriers can prepare for CSA implementation by familiarizing themselves with the calculations and where the data comes from. “We’re very pleased with how quickly FMCSA has responded to these concerns and we generally like the changes they’ve made, but we still think there’s more work to do,” Hausladen said.

Preliminary findings

Preliminary findings from the University of Michigan study indicated that although the majority of the SMS behavior analysis safety improvement categories have a strong relationship to future crashes, two of the seven – driver fitness and cargo-related – do not. In a statement released in August, FMCSA said it was adjusting how it identifies carriers for investigation so BASICs with the strongest relationship to future crashes receive the most emphasis.

As part of CSA 2010, enforcement staff will be trained and new interventions will be implemented state by state throughout 2011. “One of the challenges that FMCSA still has is how do you train law enforcement in 50 states?” Hausladen said, adding that CSA 2010 will demand accuracy and consistency in training and data collection.

In December, SMS assessment ratings previously available on a data preview website are scheduled to be made available to the public. States will begin prioritizing enforcement, FMCSA will begin issuing warning letters to carriers with deficient BASICs and roadside inspectors will identify carriers for inspection.

FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro has said motor carriers need to ensure drivers understand that their actions will more directly reflect on a company’s safety rating.

Lessons learned so far

During a webinar in September, motor carriers from five states that participated in the CSA 2010 pilot study shared their experiences with interventions and what changes they made in operations in response. The event was co-sponsored by the Minnesota Trucking Association and 34 other trucking associations.

One of the lessons motor carriers in Minnesota learned was that information being pulled through the methodology is retrospective, Hausladen said. Another was that even if a motor carrier does not use electronic onboard recorders, FMCSA is using electronic standards to verify a paper log, such as tracking fuel receipts and Global Positioning Systems data. Lastly, MTA learned that to improve safety and ensure the industry has the ability to move freight, it must stay engaged with FMCSA and continue to give feedback, submit proposals and evaluate methodology.

The big-picture change under CSA 2010 is that everything counts, Hausladen said. “There is a lot more potential exposure out there,” he said. “Secondly, the drivers now have skin in the game. Now, not only are the motor carriers being evaluated for their performance, [but] there’s more information for a driver’s performance and a driver record is going to follow them.”

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