FMCSA should levy maximum fines more often, GAO says

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The U.S. Government Accountability Office says the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration mostly does well in identifying high-risk carriers, but should assess maximum fines against all serious violators.

The Aug. 28 report from the investigative arm of Congress made several recommendations, including that FMCSA tweak its priorities for compliance reviews and revise its policy for assessing maximum fines. The U.S. Department of Transportation says it will assess the first recommendation, but DOT did not comment on the second.

The agency does a good job of identifying carriers that pose high crash risks for subsequent compliance reviews, ensuring the thoroughness and consistency of those reviews and follow-ups, GAO reported.

The agency’s policy for prioritizing compliance reviews, however, targets many high-risk carriers but not others at even higher risk, GAO reported. Carriers must score among the worst 25 percent of carriers in at least two of SafeStat’s four evaluation areas (accident, driver, vehicle and safety management) to receive high priority for a compliance review, GAO says.

Using 2004 data, GAO determined that 492 carriers that performed very poorly in accidents alone — among the worst 5 percent of carriers — subsequently had an aggregate crash rate that was more than twice as high as that of the 4,989 carriers to which FMCSA gave high priority.

GAO also says FMCSA does not assess maximum fines as the law requires. The agency assesses maximum fines against carriers only for the third violation, whereas the agency should do so after the second, GAO says.