Preventable or not?

Motor carriers can now challenge the accuracy of their accident rate information before a compliance review (CR) is finalized rather than having to wait until after they receive adverse safety ratings. Many, if not most, carriers that seek review of their safety ratings do so on the grounds that one or more accidents recorded in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s database were not preventable. The recordable accident rate affects not only a carrier’s safety rating but also its SafeStat score, which shippers and insurers often use to assess motor carriers’ safety performance.

FMCSA’s policy has been to remove an accident from the rate calculation if a carrier can present “compelling evidence” that the accident was not preventable. Previously, however, a carrier couldn’t challenge the accident determination until after completion of the CR, and that appeal had to go to FMCSA’s chief safety officer.

Under a policy issued by FMCSA last month to division administrators and state directors, carriers that receive proposed unsatisfactory ratings have 7 calendar days to document that one or more accidents were not preventable. Those that receive proposed conditional ratings have 10 days.

The new FMCSA policy is hardly an invitation for wholesale rewriting of carriers’ accident history, however. Documentation is limited to official police accident reports and official insurance accident investigation reports, and carriers still must provide compelling evidence that an accident was not preventable.

“Police and insurance company accident reports often fall short of this standard,” the memorandum states. “They may fail to indicate when the driver became aware of a dangerous roadway situation or how much time the driver had to react to the situation by taking effective evasive action.”

If there is any uncertainty, the accident must be deemed preventable. In addition, FMCSA reminded field officials that the questions of whether the commercial motor vehicle driver caused an accident and whether he could have avoided the accident “are entirely separate issues.”