By Mike Antich
More than 20 years ago, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) instituted its compliance review and safety ratings – satisfactory, conditional, and unsatisfactory. This process triggers an audit based on a complaint or one or more fatal accidents. In the late 1990s, FMCSA developed SafeStat – a data-driven, performance-based algorithm that identifies potentially high-risk motor carriers for compliance reviews. However, FMCSA has finite resources. Today, FMCSA can only audit about 2 percent of truck fleets, which, by default, means only high-risk fleets get real attention. Yet, the number of carriers has continued to increase over the years. In addition, FMCSA is experiencing additional demands on its limited resources related to homeland security issues.
In response to these resource constraints, FMCSA is developing a Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) 2010 initiative to implement more effective and efficient ways to reduce commercial motor vehicle (CMV) accidents. CSA 2010 will help FMCSA and its state partners contact more fleets and drivers, use improved data to better identify high-risk fleets and drivers, and apply a wider range of interventions to correct high-risk behavior.
In its present structure, FMCSA's compliance review (CR) program is resource-intensive and reaches only a small percentage of truck fleets. Onsite CRs take one safety investigator an average of three to four days to complete. At present staffing levels, FMCSA can perform CRs on only a small portion of the 700,000 interstate motor carriers. In addition, the FMCSA Large Truck Crash Causation Study revealed that increased attention should be given to drivers. Current FMCSA systems do not evaluate the safety fitness of individual commercial motor vehicle drivers.
When fully implemented, CSA 2010 will measure safety performance and compliance, determine safety fitness, recommend interventions, apply interventions, and track and evaluate safety improvements for FMCSA-regulated entities. A fleet's safety performance would be measured through data uploaded from fleet compliance activities and accident reports. This new model would automatically categorize data into behavioral areas, examples of which are identified below as Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories or BASICs. These are behaviors that lead to or increase the consequences of crashes. Rather than relying solely on the results of a compliance review, FMCSA could use motor carrier or driver performance data in the identified behavioral areas to determine safety fitness. BASIC categories include:
- Unsafe driving.
- Driving when fatigued.
- Drivers unfit to operate a CMV due to lack of training, experience, or medical qualification.
- Operation of a CMV while impaired due to alcohol, illegal drugs, or misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications.
- Improper or inadequate maintenance.
- Improper loading/cargo securement.
- Crash/incident experience.
The CSA 2010 operational model would regularly determine the safety fitness of truck fleets and drivers. The information systems supporting CSA 2010 would track regulated fleets and drivers. FMCSA is working to replace existing paperwork tracking systems with automated data collection systems so that safety fitness determinations are made with the most current data available. One of the biggest differences between CSA 2010 and the current system is the use of an off-site investigation. For instance, FMCSA personnel and agents could intervene by telephone, without an on-site visit, and ask for more information in a specific area, such as logs or drug testing. The intent of CSA 2010 is to identify deficiencies before they turn into problems. If severe problems arise, FMCSA can initiate an on-site investigation. FMCSA's decision to intervene also can be triggered by high crash indicators, fatal crashes, or complaints, just as it does today.
Concerns Still Exist about CSA 2010
Critics say the challenge facing CSA 2010 is bigger than just determining whether a crash was preventable or nonpreventable. They say CSA 2010 needs to account for differences in a fleet's area of operation. For example, fleet operations in the urbanized Northeast represent a greater risk of accidents than those in the rural Midwest. Some fleets have suggested that FMCSA use incentives instead of penalties to encourage safe driving. FMCSA is currently conducting a CSA 2010 operational model test in the states of Colorado, Missouri, New Jersey, and Georgia. The test will continue for 30 months into mid-2010, at which time FMCSA plans full implementation of the CSA 2010 model.
Let me know what you think.