Improved usability or lipstick on a pig? FMCSA explains website changes

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is redesigning its portal to trucking company safety data, and wants carrier input before the changes go live next spring. So whether you’re a fan of the Compliance Safety Accountability program and posting SMS data on the internet, or whether you think any changes will just be layering a new shade of lipstick on the regulatory pig you have to kiss, you’ve got about 60 days to pass along your concerns.


A brief explanation of the changes, along with a link to the preview site, can be found on But for those wanting a little more explanation than can be gleaned from a duly bureaucratic announcement in the Federal Register, Courtney Stephenson from the CSA Office of Enforcement and Compliance is here to help.

She was on hand at the recent American Trucking Associations’ annual meeting to offer the gathering of carrier execs a preview of the preview.

“Why are we doing the preview? The bottom line is so that we have a better quality product at the end of the day. We have a commitment to being transparent as to where this program is headed,” Stephenson said. “The way that we do that is we allow motor carriers and the industry to help shape and refine what we are showing them. That’s a two-way street.”

She emphasizes, however, that the changes this time around will not impact carrier safety scores or rankings. The focus is on “the display and presentation” to the public – both the website design and educational materials.

“We get a lot of comments on the methodology,” Stephenson said. ”But the theme of every comment is that this is out there in the public eye and people want to make sure the users of the information are well informed.”

She notes that the CSA team receives hundreds of emails and phone calls from the public each month, so FMCSA “has an understanding of where there are confusing points,” she suggests.

Still, “people want different things,” and those wishes can “counteract” – and quick fixes are not in anyone’s best interest, Stephens adds.

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“It’s important for us to package changes. You want a system that’s predictable; you want stability; you want transparency,” she said. “You want to make sure you’re getting input from all the different stakeholders.”

The new set of changes has three “high level” objectives:

Ÿ* In terms of website design, the aim is to provide intuitive navigation and user-friendly features. Specifically, the changes are meant to emphasize “what SMS is, and what it isn’t.”

Foremost, of course, it is an agency “prioritization tool,” she explains, and it’s a “relative system.”

“There’s always going to be the worst ‘X’ percent,” she says. “That’s something that people who are familiar with SMS understand, but it’s not necessarily something that all of our users understand.”

And the site redesign will better emphasize an individual carrier’s performance compared to how the company has done in the past – providing a view of any improvement over time.

Additionally, users will be able find out which carriers, by DOT numbers, are in the same safety event group; that is, which are the companies ranked above and below the featured carrier, based on the BASIC percentile.

Ÿ* The redesign also aims to be a “one stop shop” for FMCSA carrier information, bringing together the SAFER, Licensing and Insurance and SMS data, all in one, centralized place.

* The changes will retain and provide easy access to the detailed safety information and improve those performance monitoring tools carriers have come to rely on in the current presentation.

As with the first “enhancement package,” which included some substantial changes to the carrier measures, the preview period is designed to help motor carriers understand the proposed changes before they become operational and public.

“A lesson learned from us [with the previous changes] is that engaging the industry early in the process ultimately results in more informed comments coming in,” she said.

The final date for implementation has not been set, she notes, as FMCSA wants to be flexible and allow plenty of time to review comments and make changes following the 60-day evaluation period, she concluded.

So there’s no reason for carriers to be surprised come next spring. Log in to your account and have a look. You might discover something new – and, if you do, then maybe the changes are for the better.

If you see problems, let FMCSA know. And feel free to drop me a line as well.