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November 10, 2015 11:25 AM, EST

Carriers' Safety Ratings Improve if Nonpreventable Crashes Are Removed, ATRI Study Shows

Eliminating nonpreventable accidents from a sample of 15 motor carriers' Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety measurement scores caused significant positive changes in majority of the carriers’ Crash BASIC percentile scores, according to a new study by the American Transportation Research Institute.      

The ATRI analysis used carrier crash records, mapped to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Motor Carrier Management Information System database, to identify a small and noncontroversial subset of nonpreventable crashes.

Those crashes removed from the carriers’ scores in the analysis included animal collisions, other vehicles hitting legally parked trucks, other vehicles running a stoplight or sign and hitting trucks, crashes in which the operators of the other vehicles were driving under the influence and so-called “truck-assisted suicides.”

The ATRI analysis then removed those crashes and recalculated the Crash Indicator Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category, or BASIC, measure.

FMCSA defines the Crash Indicator BASIC as histories or patterns of high crash involvement, such as frequency and severity.

FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System does not factor in crash accountability, and so far, the agency has been unable to find a way to factor nonpreventable crashes into the percentile score.

Among the carriers in ATRI's analysis, the Crash Indicator BASIC decreased, or improved, by nearly 15% once the nonpreventable crash subset was removed, the study said.

ATRI said the recalculated BASICs scores showed that by not removing the nonpreventable crashes, the agency’s formula “may mislead conclusions about a carrier’s actual safety performance.”

“For example, if a legally parked commercial motor vehicle is struck by another vehicle and qualifies as a DOT-reportable crash, this negatively impacts a carrier’s Crash BASIC measure,” said the study, which was released Nov. 10.

Such crashes can leave the impression that a carrier is less safe, ATRI said.

"The trucking industry has identified a number of flaws in FMCSA's calculation of carrier safety performance through the CSA BASICs and perhaps none is more egregious than the inclusion of nonpreventable crashes in the Crash Indicator BASIC,” Scott Mugno, a member of ATRI's research advisory committee and vice present of safety and maintenance for FedEx Ground, said in a statement. “ATRI's latest analysis, using a very conservative definition of nonpreventable crashes, demonstrates just how skewed FMCSA's BASIC calculations can be."

ATRI estimated that the nonpreventable crashes being included in the 15 carriers’ safety measurement scores cost the carriers a total of $68 million.

Including nonpreventable crashes in a carrier’s safety profile also can create higher insurance costs, legal consequences and lost productivity from more frequent inspections, ATRI said.

A total of 17 carriers, more than 60% truckload carriers, responded to ATRI Crash BASIC date request. Only 15 had sufficient information in their crash records to assign clear preventability and primary crash cause determinations. Eighty-six percent of the carriers in the study had fleets of more than 1,000 power units.