Carrier fitness makeover clears final hurdle Thinkstock

Carrier fitness makeover clears final hurdle

Data-focused plan moves ahead despite CSA concerns in Congress

Recently passed legislation to rein in the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program will not impact the long-awaited, data-focused makeover of the way the DOT officially rates carriers, a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration official says.

That new Safety Fitness Determination Notice of Proposed Rulemaking has cleared an administrative review by the White House Office of Management and Budget and, according to the Transportation Department’s December significant rulemaking report, has a projected publication date of Dec. 29. But that report also projected OMB clearance by Dec. 15; the proposal was released Dec. 10. Publication in the Federal Register will start the clock on a statutory public comment period.

In the FAST Act, also known as the highway bill, Congress earlier this month required FMCSA to review how it makes the rules and the rules’ impact on various segments of the industry. Lawmakers also have required FMCSA to take another look at CSA—and, in the meantime, to remove the carrier BASICs scoring from public view. CSA went into effect in December 2010.

And while Bill Quade, FMCSA associate administrator for enforcement, contends the carrier scores are “absolutely valid” and should be available to the public, the agency recognizes that Congress wants assurances as to the validity of the data—and FMCSA expects to complete the verification steps to restore the “accountability” portion of CSA by this time next year.

In the meantime, FMCSA intends to stay the course with regard to the fitness determination proposal, which will use carrier inspection and traffic violation data as a key component in the rating process.

Quade emphasized that the Safety Management System (SMS) scores, within the CSA regime, are “relative,” as carriers are ranked among comparable fleets and operations. In the pending fitness rule, “absolute standards” will be used to rate carriers. Additionally, the “data sufficiency concerns” that CSA critics have emphasized will be “less relevant,” he recently explained to American Trucker.

“We’re going to get comments on it and our hope is that we can move forward with a new system to rate people for their recent on-the-road performance,” Quade said, and he noted a trucking company he reviewed in 1994 still has its current satisfactory rating based on that review. “I have no reason to believe they’re not still a safe company, but I don’t believe a review I did 21 years ago is of any relevance today.”

Because the new system is “two-tiered,” one in which every carrier is either fit or unfit to operate, the matter of unrated carriers will essentially “go away,” Quade added. “Either you don’t have enough bad performance data so that we’re not worried about you, or you do have enough bad performance data and we are worried about you.”

The rulemaking was initiated in 2007, designed to focus on the carriers with the highest crash rates and to “represent the best opportunity for the Agency to have an impact on safety with its limited resources.” More information regarding the government proposal is here.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For a complete look at FMCSA's 2016 regulatory agenda, see the January edition of American Trucker magazine.

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