May 30, 2016 2:45 AM, EDT

Commenters Slam Safety Fitness Proposal

Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance

This story appears in the May 30 print edition of Transport Topics.

Comments filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on its proposed safety fitness scores were mostly negative.

American Trucking Associations, among those commenting by the May 23 cut-off date, called on FMCSA to rescind the proposal until the National Academies of Sciences reviews Compliance, Safety, Accountability data, which the agency used to form the proposal.

“Congress has clearly communicated its concerns about the reliability of CSA data in assessing the safety performance and crash risk of individual fleets,” wrote Rob Abbott, ATA’s vice president for safety policy. “Proposing to use this same data to make SFDs [Safety Fitness Determinations] with strong consequences [prohibitions on operating] is inappropriate.”

In rating a carrier’s safety fitness, the proposed rule would replace the current three-tiered system (satisfactory, conditional and unsatisfactory) with a sole determination of “unfit.” The determination would be based on roadside inspection data, FMCSA on-site investigations or a combination of the two.

CRST International of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, requested that FMCSA abandon its current proposed rulemaking and comply with the mandate of Congress in the FAST Act, which directed the agency “to perform additional studies in order to collect more scientifically sound data before attempting to create a new CSA program based on methodology and data already shown to be inaccurate.”

Among other issues, the National Private Truck Council said FMCSA “must analyze CSA’s accuracy in identifying high-risk carriers and predicting future crash risk and severity … and the tie between crash risk and regulatory violations.”

The National Association of Small Trucking Companies objected to an assumption in the proposed rule “that smaller motor carriers are generally less safe” than larger firms.

“Given the lack of data on the vast majority of small motor carriers, the approach proposed for moving toward assignment of ‘unfit’ status would amount to a ‘close-down’ order for many a small company,” NASTC wrote.

While Knight Transportation of Phoenix said it generally supports the concept of the proposed rule, the company said the SFD “creates a system that subjects a relative handful of carriers to scrutiny while neglecting tens of thousands of motor carriers — creating a disparate and arbitrary and capricious rating system.”

Atlantic Carriers of Atlantic, Iowa, said it believes the proposed rule “will be extremely detrimental to the industry.”

The company added that “while CSA has improved since it was first implemented, it continues to include erroneous violations where the corresponding citation was either dismissed, assigned to the wrong carrier or the driver was found not guilty.”

Universal Logistics Holdings Inc., in Warren, Michigan, said, “Congress has determined that the FMCSA’s SMS/CSA scoring system had enough flaws in it to demand that the scores be hidden from public view and requested [FMCSA] … address these flaws. How can the FMCSA possibly use the same flawed data to plug into a new fitness determination?”

Advocacy groups, while more supportive of the proposed SFD rule, also expressed concerns.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and Road Safe America bemoaned FMCSA limiting the use of crash indicator data and the pool of affected carriers to those that have had a minimum of 11 inspections with violations and rank near the bottom of comparable carriers in several categories.

“The change proposed by FMCSA appears to revise the definition of an unfit carrier in order to identify a smaller, more manageable number of unfit carriers to better conform to the agency’s available enforcement resources,” AHAS wrote.

Road Safe America did praise FMCSA for planning to assess five times as many carriers as the agency currently does.

CRST and Knight rank Nos. 25 and 31, respectively, on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.