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FMCSA Looks to Expand Its Safety Role

FMCSA Looks to Expand Its Safety Role

Aug. 31, 2020
‘Beyond Compliance’ initiative focuses on technology and industry successes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is seeking public input on a research project to help develop how the agency can take more forward-looking actions to promote its safety mission for the interstate truck and bus industries.

FMCSA opened a proceeding and sought comments late last year as the basis for creating the what is called the Beyond Compliance program. This new proceeding focuses on a creating a study to perform appropriate research designed to create the foundation for choosing what amount to safety best practices fleets. Fleets found to be following them would get a boost to their safety rating.

 FMCSA says the primary purpose of this initiative is to assess the effectiveness of various technologies, programs and policies regarding motor carrier safety performance in support of implementing the “Beyond Compliance” requirements contained in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act of 2015 (FAST Act).

 The agency says the proposed research effort is designed to meet the following three objectives:

  •  Identify high-performing carriers in terms of safety performance.
  •  Determine the safety technologies, programs, and policies employed by these carriers.
  •  Gauge the relative effectiveness of those safety technologies, programs and policies based on the expert opinion and performance metrics of the high performing carriers.

 The idea of the Beyond Compliance program is to identify and apply benefits for carriers that are found to have gone above and beyond what is required be federal safety regulations. Under FAST Act, Congress directed the agency to give credit to carriers who install advanced safety equipment, use enhanced driver fitness measures, adopt fleet safety management tools and programs, or satisfy other standards identified by FMCSA.

For the new research study, FMCSA proposes generating data that initially would consist largely of responses collected from a select group of carriers about what they believe are the most effective technologies, programs and policies for achieving safe operations.

The study does not attempt to conduct a full survey of the motor carrier population, the agency points out. Instead, it relies on expert opinion from a select group of carriers that are objectively determined to exhibit safe operations that exceed industry averages.

The survey results would then be analyzed to determine the safety program elements that are most frequently scored the highest across participants. Analysis of what these carriers believe to be the most effective methods for achieving the highest safety performance would then be included in the Beyond Compliance program.

The carriers chosen by the agency to participate will be identified by examining Department of Transportation (DOT) reportable crash rates as well as roadside inspection data in the form of driver and vehicle out-of-service rates. According to FMCSA, only carriers that have been found to have performed near the top quartile across all three categories will be considered potential participants in the survey.

The Cart Before the Horse?

In addition to the carriers invited by FMCSA to participate in the survey, FMCSA said it will also reach out to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies to invite them to voluntarily survey their members as provide supplemental data collection.

OOIDA had been critical of the Beyond Compliance program after the agency announced it last year.  The independent contractor group is concerned that the program would allow large fleets to receive better safety scores simply because they can afford the latest technology.

The association said it is against any “pay to play” approach and declared that the program should find a way to reward all carriers who can prove themselves capable of improving safety.

“Beyond Compliance must measure and reward actual crash reductions or continued exemplary performance for those carriers without a preventable DOT reportable crash on a carrier-by-carrier basis,” OOIDA said in comments filed in the original proceeding. “OOIDA strongly believes that the FMCSA must structure Beyond Compliance in a way so all types of carriers can participate in the program, not just larger carriers who can afford it.”

OOIDA also noted that comprehensive changes in the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program are in development and should be completed before any Beyond Compliance program is adopted. The CSA program assigns safety ratings to carriers which are used by shippers and insurers to evaluate which fleets they choose to work with.

CSA came under almost immediate attack when it was launched in 2010. Carriers complained that the information was often out of date, incomplete or inaccurate. In the 2015 FAST Act Congress ordered that the National Academies of Science (NAS) conduct a thorough review of the CSA methodology for assigning carrier safety ratings.  In 2017, NAS

FMCSA is reacting to the criticisms from truckers over the years and NAS about how CSA data was generated to evaluate safety performance and is expected to decide before the end of  September if it is ready to begin full-scale testing of the proposed CSA changes. One potential change could include allowing carriers to remove non-preventable crashes from their CSA unsafe score calculations.

One of the most consequential enhancements of the CSA program was the 2016 launch of FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, which collects drug testing data for individual drivers. The clearinghouse already has made a difference. Information generated by it caused FMCSA to increase the minimum annual rate for random drug tests of truck drivers from 25% on 2019 to 50% in 2020.

Comments on the Beyond Compliance research project are due by Sept. 17. For additional information about the proposal, see FMCSA’s notice in the Aug. 18 issue of the Federal Register.

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