FMCSA seeks more input on CSA 2010 initiative

Under its Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to use safety-related data more proactively to oversee motor carriers and drivers, but interested parties told the agency Tuesday, Dec. 4, that such an approach will require data that is more reliable and more tightly analyzed than is the case today. FMCSA officials said they are aware of some of those challenges and are trying to address them.

In comments at Tuesday’s listening session in Arlington, Texas, William Mahoney, assistant program manager for CSA 2010, described the effort as the next step in the evolution of safety oversight that begin in 1984 with the roadside inspection program, and continued in 1986 with the inauguration of compliance reviews and in 1999 with the implementation of SafeStat.

Beginning in January 2008, most carriers in four U.S. states – Colorado, Georgia, Missouri and New Jersey – will be selected randomly as either test subjects or members of the control group in a test of whether a new approach that emphasizes progressive intervention on specific safety behaviors could be more effective in reducing crashes than the current system that relies principally on compliance reviews of entire safety management programs. Because such audits are resource-intensive, FMCSA conducts them on only about 2 percent of carriers each year.

Today’s regime looks broadly at data on crashes, vehicles, drivers and safety management to flag carriers as high safety risks and targets for compliance reviews. But the system isn’t very effective in helping FMCSA quickly identify what the specific problems are, officials say.

Instead, with the next couple of years, FMCSA wants to implement a system that monitors performance in seven specific areas, which it calls Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement Categories, or BASICS. The BASICS are:

  • Unsafe driving
  • Fatigued driving
  • Driver fitness
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Cargo securement (including hazardous materials and passengers)
  • Crash history
  • Rather than wait for the problems to build until an audit was called for, the new system would review data every 30 days and highlight deficiencies. Based on the nature or severity of the deficiencies, FMCSA would implement a progressively more severe set of interventions, starting with a warning letter and moving through targeted roadside inspections, off-site investigations, on-site investigations, corporate safety plans, notice of violation, notice of claims, settlement agreements and suspension of authority. This is similar to today’s menu of options, but FMCSA officials say the visibility provided by BASICS could allow for more problems to be addressed by telephone calls, for example, rather than compliance reviews.

    In Tuesday’s listening session, many participants approved of FMCSA’s plans in concept but emphasized that such extensive reliance on data collection and analysis poses challenges. FMCSA already had anticipated one of the biggest concerns: Fairly analyzing crash history. Top FMCSA officials are insisting on a mechanism for determining whether a carrier should be held accountable for specific crashes. “That’s a challenge,” Mahoney says.

    Several participants said the challenge is bigger than just determining whether a crash was preventable or nonpreventable. One pointed out that FMCSA’s model needs to account for differences in the carrier’s operational profile, since trips in the congested Northeast face greater risks of crashes than those in the Midwest and West.

    Another concern for some carriers is the frequency with which carriers’ status could change among “continue to operate,” “marginal” and “unfit.” Many shippers require their carriers to have satisfactory safety ratings. Under today’s system, a carrier would have ample notice that it was facing a change from satisfactory to conditional. Under the new system, that could change in a matter of 30 days. However, carriers still would have full due process rights for responding to proposed findings that they are unfit.

    Most of what FMCSA wants to do will require changes in today’s regulations. The agency hopes to launch a rulemaking on its CSA 2010 initiative next spring or summer. In addition, some of the elements in the initiatives might require statutory changes or work better if FMCSA had additional legislative authority, which it plans to request as part of the next highway authorization in 2009.

    Meanwhile, FMCSA is asking for more input at least through Jan. 31 as it works toward a rulemaking phase. For more information on the CSA 2010 initiative and on how to provide input, go to www.fmcsa.dot.gov/csa2010. For notices and comments filed in the docket – including a detailed explanation of CSA 2010 elements that was published Nov. 2 – visit www.regulations.gov and search for FMCSA-2004-18898.