September 13, 2012

Feds hold hearing on motorcoach safety program

A Congressional hearing on Thursday focused on the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) truck and bus safety program and ensuring the program most accurately reflects safety ratings of motor carriers.

The Highways and Transit Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN), received testimony from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA), the trucking and bus industry, law enforcement officials, and safety advocates on FMCSA’s new motor carrier safety enforcement and compliance program — the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, or CSA — and issues related to its implementation.

The following is Chairman Duncan’s statement from the hearing:

“I think everyone will agree that decreasing fatalities and injuries resulting from truck and bus crashes is the most important goal the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is charged with. With this goal in mind, FMCSA implemented CSA in December of 2010.

“CSA was designed to maximize the Agency’s resources by compiling carrier violations from inspections and crash reports in order to determine the future crash risk of a truck or bus company. This data is used to create a type of safety profile for truck and bus companies so consumers can make educated choices when selecting companies.

“However, on July 16th of last year I spoke to a group that is a member of the Alliance for Safe, Efficient, and Competitive Truck Transportation (ASECTT) who raised concerns related to the methodology used in CSA, specifically in the Safety Measurement System or SMS.

“Some of these concerns arise from the fact that 40% of the 500,000 active truck and bus companies generate a score in at least one of the seven SMS categories, also called BASICs. The number of companies that generate a score in all BASICs is unknown. A comprehensive understanding of a carrier’s safety is difficult to achieve with this lack of data.

“In addition, not all states report every violation to FMCSA, so the SMS methodology is only as good as the data flowing into the system.

“These data problems present a significant challenge for small trucking companies which make up the majority of commercial motor vehicles. Since many of these small companies generate little to no data into the SMS, their scores can fluctuate dramatically and the small companies that generate no score are misconceived as unsafe.

“Questions have also been raised over the relationship of some violations and whether they are indicators of future crash risk. Scores generated in certain BASICs may not have a correlation to future crash risk and may inadvertently focus FMCSA’s enforcement measures on the wrong carriers.

“Shippers and brokers are also left wondering how to evaluate the safety fitness of carriers with a score in only one BASIC or no score at all. Recent court rulings have established ‘duty of reasonable care’ requirements that brokers and shippers must meet when hiring a carrier in order to avoid negligent hiring lawsuits. Brokers and shippers are now in the position of determining whether a carrier is sufficiently safe to hire based on incomplete or misleading scores.

“The intentions behind CSA are good, but it is not a perfect system. We are holding this hearing today to identify where we can improve CSA and how we can reduce fatalities and injuries while keeping the engine of our economy moving.

“I hope this hearing will help Members of Congress and interested parties better understand these concerns and generate proposals to make CSA a more effective tool.”

More information from the hearing, including testimony from the witnesses, can be found here.

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