January 2009

FMCSA Pushes for Greater Carrier Safety, Compliance

by Jack Burkert

Trimming the number of traffic accidents involving trucks and buses is the challenge faced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). While the emphasis over the past decade or more has been on trucking safety, high profile bus crashes, spread across the country over the past year or two, have raised the enforcement profile of the passenger transportation industry.

The results of recent driver and vehicle inspections have not been encouraging either, with an August 2008 “strike force” placing almost 1,200 buses and 225 drivers out of service for serious violations of federal safety regulations.

But such labor intensive FMCSA activities, such as strike forces and multiple-day compliance reviews, have limitations. The agency, with a staff numbering a few hundred, is responsible for the oversight of the activities and operations of more than 600,000 motor carrier companies.

When state enforcement officials, funded through grants from the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program are added to the total, the numbers are still too small and the resources spread too thin to have the kind of impact and results the public and Congress demand. In short: too many places to be and too few people to be there.

Measurement basics
To increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the compliance/enforcement of motor carrier safety regulations, the FMCSA developed the Comprehensive Safety Analysis program (CSA2010), set for implementation in 2010. The program, which has been in planning for five years, seeks to use data and a broad array of agency-to-motor carrier contact tools to tilt the scale toward greater safety and compliance.

The program begins with a new series of evaluation measurements, called BASICs. The BASIC evaluation areas include unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, drugs/alcohol, vehicle maintenance, cargo securement and crash experience.

As data is received by the FMCSA, it would be scored, weighted and added to a carrier’s record. As data elements increase in number and severity, the measurement system would trigger intervention activity.

Planned intervention strategies include warning letters to the carrier demanding a response to safety concerns; development of cooperative safety plans by the FMCSA and the carrier to remedy the perceived problems; and as necessary, on-site evaluations specific to the deficiencies noted in the data on file. Problems such as a series of roadside driver citations or other driver concerns, might lead to a visit and evaluation limited to the carrier’s hiring and qualification processes. The plan for CSA2010 is to limit full-scale agency compliance reviews to worst case situations.

Test implementation began early in 2008, with planned 30-month field testing of the new procedures conducted in Georgia, Missouri, Colorado and New Jersey. Randomly selected carrier groups were established in each state, half subject to the CSA2010 process and half to current established enforcement strategies.

In an FMCSA “listening session” conducted in October, the enrolled states reported satisfactory or better results from the new intervention approach. In a report published in the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Guardian newsletter, Maj. Scott Hernandez, of the Colorado State Patrol Motor Carrier Safety Branch, reported positive results from CSA2010 procedures, stating that carriers appreciated the targeted intervention process and the data driven approach. Hernandez calls the program “a model of how government entities should work with carriers to improve safety.”

 


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