June 30, 2015 11:00 AM, EDT
CSA Needs to Be Aligned With Safety Risks That Cause Accidents, Report Says

A report by an independent review team that examined the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s enforcement practices concluded that the agency’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program needs to be better aligned with the safety risks that cause crashes.

The review team, led by a top Federal Aviation Administration official, completed its 88-page report in July 2014, but FMCSA did not make the report public until this week.

The team was appointed by Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in response to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board that found FMCSA had failed to identify significant safety issues during prior audits of the motor carriers involved in four serious commercial vehicle crashes.  

The independent review team agreed with NTSB’s general observations, concluding that FMCSA’s current compliance review process does not consistently generate the intended results.

“The current leaders of FMCSA share many of the concerns of the NTSB and other stakeholders about this process," the report said. “Current operating conditions and methods appear to constrain FMCSA.”

The review said that while the agency is taking measures to improve the quality of its investigation, the investigations “do not consistently result in cited violations that target the highest-risk behaviors.”

The review team’s report also found that there is a significant backlog of “nearly due or overdue investigations” because the agency manages the workload primarily on a “first-in, first-out production model” and not on a “risk-targeting” basis in the application of its resources.

“Of the 7,361 motor carriers that the safety measurement system prioritized in calendar year 2013, roughly 27% had additional Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category [scores] go above threshold during the period between the compliance review assignment and time of review,” the report said. “Conversely, nearly 33% had a BASIC above threshold when assigned that was no longer above threshold at the time of review.”

In an apparent response to the review team’s year-old report, FMCSA announced in a June 29 Federal Register posting that it plans to make several changes to the CSA program intended to more closely align intervention thresholds of its safety rating categories to crash risk.

FMCSA also said it will open the hazmat compliance BASIC to public scrutiny, segment cargo tank and noncargo tank carriers within the hazmat BASIC and increase the maximum vehicle miles traveled used in the utilization factor to 250,000 miles from 200,000 miles to more accurately reflect operations of high-utilization carriers.

“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 Dave Osiecki, executive vice president and chief of advocacy for American Trucking Associations. “A number of stakeholders, including the Government Accountability Office, have observed the agency is often focused on compliance issues that do not bear a relationship to crash risk.” 

FMCSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.