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Congress directs FMCSA to develop ‘beyond compliance’ incentives for carriers

Trucking's Future Now - Infrastructure - Inspections on ComputerThe FAST Act highway bill signed into law Dec. 4, along with a raft of provisions that in some ways pulled back the reins on the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program’s Safety Measurement System, also included a section intended to be a potential addition to the program. Headed “Beyond compliance,” the section details several additional requirements of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration over the next 18 months, the same length of time the bill gave FMCSA to address several issues with the CSA SMS and report back to Congress.

The highway bill’s “Beyond compliance” directives require FMCSA to develop and implement in that time an incentive system for carriers that gives credit either in the CSA SMS or via some other methodology in the CSA program to carriers who do one of several things in their safety investments and operations. According to the bill’s text, credits are to be required for motor carriers who do one or a combination of the following:

  • install advanced safety equipment,
  • use enhanced driver fitness measures
  • adopt fleet safety management tools, technologies and programs
  • or satisfy an as-yet-unspecified set of other “standards determined appropriate by the Administrator.”
    The “Beyond Compliance” program’s inclusion in the highway bill ensures its regulatory pursuit. And the final bulleted item above leaves wide open credit possibilities.

FMCSA floats idea of ‘Beyond Compliance’ program to reward carriers for going beyond regulatory minimums

Incentives proposed by FMCSA include credit on CSA scores, credit on ISS scores and fewer roadside inspections.

But this isn’t the first to be heard of it. FMCSA launched a request for comments on such an initiative in April, as previously reported, following a March “Beyond compliance” discussion by the agency’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. The committee discussed possibilities for credit-worthy activities in its September-issued letter to FMCSA. Among them were carrier use of technologies such as various collision mitigation systems, speed limiters and electronic logs; management practices, including driver training of various kinds, that promote safety; and compensation models/levels that promote safety, such as incentive programs.

MCSAC also recommended that a third party, rather than FMCSA, administer the program. Language in the highway bill explicitly enables such an option, but leaves the decision up to the agency.

Organizations that filed comments in response to FMCSA’s early-year request warned against structuring the program such that it becomes nothing more than a way of rewarding one group of carriers for doing some they already do. Of particular issue was investment in leading-edge technologies, more common among the larger fleets. Noted the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Alliance in its comments, “Although similar concepts have proven more successful with larger motor carriers in other jurisdictions around the globe, it is critical that the Beyond Compliance program be inclusive of all sectors of the motor carrier industry, including smaller motor carriers.”

FAST Act highway bill signed by President Obama, FMCSA takes down CSA scores

As required by the law, the agency pulled the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Safety Measurement System and its BASIC categories of carrier safety analysis and evaluation ...

The American Trucking Associations, while applauding attention to a potential program that would “help alter a challenging paradigm by changing FMCSA from an agency that takes an enforcement-centric approach to one that recognizes the safety benefits of incenting and rewarding safe behavior,” also recognized challenges to implementation.

In addition to SMS credits of some kind, reduction of carrier Inspection Selection System scores, utilized by bypass programs and law enforcement as a marker of inspection priority at the roadside, has likewise been discussed.

Relief from existing regulations, such as bonus hours flexibility or another incentive, however, CVSA warned against: “The Beyond Compliance program should not include any relief from existing regulations or requirements. The purpose of such a program is to recognize motor carriers who go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Releasing participating motor carriers from the minimum requirements is inappropriate and in direct conflict with the purpose of the program. CVSA strongly opposes any effort to do so.”

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Todd Dills is Senior Editor of Overdrive magazine and writes from Nashville, Tenn. He frequently covers business, regulatory and lifestyle topics for the magazine and at OverdriveOnline.com. His work on the “CSA’s Data Trail” series in Overdrive about the federal CSA program was awarded the highest honor in trade journalism – the “Grand Neal” – by American Business Media at the 2014 Jesse H. Neal Awards. Dills’ Channel 19 blog covers a grab bag of on-highway hearsay, owner-operator news and driver views from the roadways the nation over. His work in trucking journalism builds on a background of news feature, fiction and other creative writing and editing. Find him here at the Channel 19 blog and via his Twitter feed, or send tips to tdills@randallreilly.com or via phone at 205-907-2481.