Nearly a year after being circulated within the Department of Transportation, DOT has published the results of an independent review that credits the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration with having talented and dedicated people, but “the current operating dynamics within FMCSA require significant changes.”
“FMCSA is in the midst of a major initiative to improve the effectiveness of the Agency’s compliance and enforcement programs, and has reached a challenging juncture in the change management process,” says the report’s executive summary. “Without these changes, the organization will have great difficulty enhancing its safety oversight of the motor carrier industry to the level everyone desires.”
The review team was appointed in response to specific National Transportation Safety Board recommendations. During investigations of four serious commercial motor vehicle crashes, NTSB found that FMCSA had failed to identify significant safety issues during prior audits of the motor carriers involved in the crashes.
Among the report’s findings:
- With regard to the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, the agency needs to “better align” processes with the risks that cause crashes, according to the review—a conclusion that mirrors CSA audits by the Government Accountability Office and DOT’s Office of the Inspector General.
- Similarly, the review team found problems with the safety measurement system (SMS), both in terms of the need to improve the data to “exploit common ground between the interests of FMCSA, the regulated industry, and other stakeholders,” and in the agency’s lack of a process to manage “risk concentrations” once they’ve been identified.
- Additionally, investigations under the compliance review (CR) process “do not consistently result in cited violations that target the highest risk behaviors.” The review team suggests FMCSA establish a clear priority of “CR quality over numbers completed,” and empower “field level discretion” in conducting those CRs, with a robust review/feedback process for consistency and quality.
- The review also encourages FMCSA to move forward with its Beyond Compliance initiative, and discusses the role that voluntary safety programs might play “in delivering safety enhancements that move substantially beyond those achievable through traditional compliance methods.”
In response to the report, American Trucking Assns. (ATA) on Monday called on the FMCSA to accelerate the agency’s efforts to integrate more “risk-based assessments” into its enforcement programs.
“It is clear that, since receiving it last summer, FMCSA has been taking some positive steps to respond accordingly,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves. “It’s also clear that much more remains to be done.”
ATA cites specifically the part of the report that suggests CSA could be more effective if behaviors directly and immediately connected to crash risk were separated from “form and manner” compliance issues. ATA notes the report discussed how, during on-site audits, investigators sometimes ignore violations that may relate to crash risk in favor of paperwork issues that are easier to document and more readily available.
“ATA is particularly pleased that the Independent Review Team highlighted the critical need for FMCSA to better align compliance and enforcement programs with the risks that actually cause crashes,” said ATA Executive Vice President and Chief of Advocacy Dave Osiecki.
Also on Monday, FMCSA announced “proposed enhancements” to the SMS system that would include changing some of the SMS Intervention Thresholds “to better reflect the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories' (BASICs) correlation to crash risk,” other changes to the Hazardous Materials (HM) Compliance BASIC, reclassifying violations for operating while out-of-service (OOS) to the Unsafe Driving BASIC, and adjustments to the Utilization Factor (UF).
FMCSA said it will provide a preview of the proposed enhancements allowing motor carriers to see their own data, enforcement to see the data, and an opportunity for all to comment prior to implementation.