This story appears in the Jan. 16 print edition of Transport Topics.
WASHINGTON — A Transportation Research Board subcommittee last week continued exploring potential research ideas aimed at assisting federal truck and bus regulators in establishing a congressionally mandated “alternative compliance” program that would reward carriers for exceeding regulatory requirements.
Among the more prominent ideas discussed by committee members at the TRB annual meeting here included the use of data that fleets are collecting that might help prove that safety systems such as lane departure and crash avoidance deployed by carriers are reducing crashes.
“Do they actually assure safety outcomes, do we even know they are turned on, are they actually used for other purposes, are they on all the trucks in the fleet?” Brenda Lantz, subcommittee chairman and associate director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University, asked on Jan. 9.
“I have investigated many crashes in my career — large and small motor carriers,” Michael Fox, a highway accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said to the subcommittee. He is not a member. “But some of the things that I found, especially in some of the large companies, is they don’t do anything with the technology. They don’t analyze the data.”
Fox added, “That’s very profound. These are companies that have the wherewithal, but they don’t analyze or do any internal research. Folks of your caliber should be analyzing this data.”
In addition to safety technologies, the subcommittee discussed possible research needs regarding how carriers’ safety cultures and best practices could be included in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Beyond Compliance” effort.
But so far, the subcommittee has had difficulty recommending specific research projects, and at one point a year ago, considered actually dissolving.
Also discussed were voluntary alternative compliance programs already in place such as Trucksafe in Australia, the American Chemistry Association’s Responsible Care Program, SmartWay and alternative compliance for the offshore oil and gas industry.
FMCSA in April 2015 issued a request for public comment on its exploratory initiative to find ways to reward carriers that deploy safety technologies or implement safety programs before the agency implements them.
The proposed methodology of alternative compliance has been controversial in the trucking industry, especially among independent operators and their trade association, the Owner- Operator Independent Drivers Association.
American Trucking Associations supports the idea of finding ways to reward carriers that have voluntarily adopted tools and technologies meant to improve safety.
The sticking point has been finding a way to give the incentive to trucking companies to exceed regulatory expectations. So far, the agency has proposed that the program create a new CSA Beyond Compliance BASIC category that would show up in carriers’ CSA scores.
The agency said, however, the initiative will not result in regulatory relief.
FMCSA is still seeking comment on what voluntary technologies or safety program best practices would be appropriate, what type of incentives would encourage motor carriers to invest in technologies and best practices programs, and how the agency could verify that the voluntary technologies or safety programs were being implemented.