GAO: Program effectively blocks registrations by unfit carriers

A federal program intended to block unfit carriers from obtaining or maintaining vehicle registrations has been implemented by 25 states, and it apparently works well, a government watchdog agency says. What’s less clear, however, is the extent to which the success in taking those trucks off the road translates into reduced highway crashes, the Government Accountability Office said in a report released Tuesday, May 12.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration spends about $5 million a year on the Performance and Registration Information Systems Management (PRISM) grant program, a voluntary initiative that helps states establish information connections between state vehicle registration and FMCSA’s safety databases. States receive up-to-date information on carriers’ safety status when carriers try to register or renew registrations with the state. States must pass legislation authorizing licensing agencies to deny, suspend or revoke those registrations.

According to FMCSA data, 972 out-of-service carriers in 2008 had vehicle registrations denied, suspended or revoked, GAO said. That’s about 15 percent of carriers placed out of service in 2008, but GAO believes the 15 percent figure to be an underestimate because the data can be hard to track.

States that are blocking vehicle registrations as well as representatives from safety and industry associations say PRISM is worth the effort, but it is hard to isolate the program’s impact on crash rates, GAO says. FMCSA itself plans to adopt program measures to assess PRISM’s effectiveness, but the agency hasn’t done so yet for various reasons, including a lack of resources.

One likely limitation on PRISM’s effectiveness is the fact that 25 states – including those with the greatest numbers of registered commercial motor vehicles – and the District of Columbia do not yet have the ability to deny, suspend or revoke vehicle registrations of out-of-service carriers, GAO says. But national implementation may not occur for years if PRISM continues as a voluntary program, it says.

For a copy of the GAO report, click here.