Are you safe in SafeStat?

Q My small trucking company received a solicitation letter from a former U.S. DOT state director who now is a consultant. He states that our company has a DOT SafeStat Classification of “E,” meaning we can “expect a visit from DOT almost any day now.” He recommends a “friendly audit” to get our books and records up to snuff, pointing out that if we receive an “unsatisfactory” safety record, we will have only 60 days to improve or an operational shutdown order will be imposed. I know he is trying to scare us into retaining his services, but I’m concerned that he may be right about all of this. Is he?

A He is basically correct – at least about the implications of an unsatisfactory rating. If you draw a compliance review and receive a proposed unsatisfactory rating, you will have 60 days to either convince the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that it has erred or prove to the agency’s satisfaction that you can sufficiently improve to obtain a conditional rating. If you don’t prevail, you will face a shutdown order. And even if you escape that fate, you very likely will face a hefty – if not crippling – fine. Thus, the state of your safety compliance is nothing to be taken lightly.

FMCSA’s reporting system is far from perfect. Inclusion of unpreventable accidents in the data or the practice in some states to report only unfavorable inspection reports can skew SafeStat scores to falsely portray carriers as unsafe operators. The laws of random occurrence are at work and can exaggerate the statistics for a small carrier.

You can certainly quarrel with the system’s methodology, but it’s the system we have. It is intended to identify and inspect first the carriers most at risk.

Every carrier gets an inspection score that is used by enforcement officials to determine whether to inspect a carrier’s unit or waive it through the scales. If inspectors always stop your trucks, you probably have a high SafeStat number. FMCSA groups carriers into letter categories based on the SafeStat number or their scores on individual safety factors that make up the overall SafeStat score. Carriers on the A and B list have high scores in two or more areas and are the first ones targeted for DOT audit.

Categories D through G reflect higher-than-desired scores in accidents, drivers, vehicles and safety management, respectively. You are on the E list, meaning that your out-of-service ratio for drivers’ logs is higher than average. That’s where your concern about this consultant’s scare tactics may have some grounding. Unless the auditors in your state are extremely industrious or there are relatively few carriers with SafeStat problems, it would be unusual – assuming you don’t have other, undisclosed safety and compliance problems – for you to be the subject of an immediate audit.

I cannot advise whether or not you should hire a safety consultant, but it is certainly not a bad idea. Someone in your operation needs to thoroughly understand your safety requirements and monitor compliance on a daily basis. Someone also should review the publicly available SafeStat data regularly to ensure accuracy. (See “Resources” below.)

Organizations such as the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, your state trucking association and the American Trucking Associations can help with low-cost safety compliance programs. In addition, many in the industry are pushing the federal government and states to adopt programs similar to Tennessee’s ACES, an initiative that provides no-cost “friendly audits” to carriers seeking assessments of their safety program.

Resources:
You can obtain your carrier profile through the Web by visiting Analysis and Information Online (http://ai.volpe.dot.gov/mcspa.asp). Click on “SafeStat Online” and then on “Carrier Detail Results.” From there you can search your own – or anyone else’s – detailed data, including specific accidents, inspections, moving violations, etc. And by viewing the state rankings of carriers, you can determine how many carriers in your state have higher inspection values than you do.