January 19, 2016 9:00 AM, EST

FMCSA Issues Proposed Safety Fitness Determination Rule

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Jan. 15 issued a proposed safety fitness determination rule that would use data from agency and roadside inspections and investigations, or both, in evaluating on a monthly basis whether a carrier is fit to operate.

The proposed rule would replace the current three-tier federal SafeStat rating system of “satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory” for carriers used since 1982 with a single determination of “unfit,” which would require the carrier to either improve or cease operations. 

A carrier could be proposed unfit by failing two or more Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) through inspections or investigation results, or a combination of both, the agency said.

Once in place, the rule will permit FMCSA to assess the safety fitness of approximately 75,000 companies a month using the agency’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program’s safety measurement system methodology. FMCSA said it currently is only able to investigate 15,000 motor carriers annually.

“The carrier’s SFD measure would reflect its own performance against the failure standard and would not be impacted by other carriers’ performance,” FMCSA said.

The proposal said that based on experience and empirical data from the safety measurement system and interventions, the integration of on-road safety data into the safety fitness determination process would improve the assessment of motor carriers and the identification of unfit carriers.

“Such integration is a long-standing recommendation of the National Transportation Safety Board,” the rule said.

The agency estimated that under this proposal, fewer than 300 motor carriers each year would be proposed as “unfit” solely as a result of on-road safety violations.  Further, the agency’s analysis has shown that the carriers identified through this on-road safety data have crash rates of almost four times the national average. 

“This update to our methodology will help the agency focus on carriers with a higher crash risk,” FMCSA acting Administrator Scott Darling said in a statement.  “Carriers that we identify as unfit to operate will be removed from our roadways until they improve.”

The CSA measurement system has been sharply criticized by the trucking industry and the Government Accountability Office as in some instances using flawed data, allegations that FMCSA has denied.

The proposed fitness determination failure standards would be equivalent to the measures that would determine a motor carrier unfit at the 96th percentile for the Unsafe Driving and HOS Compliance BASICs — a rating that would put a carrier in the worst 4% of fleets that have measurable data in the system.

The proposed SFD standards would determine that a motor carrier is unfit at the 99th percentile for the Driver Fitness, Vehicle Maintenance, and Hazardous Materials Compliance BASICs. Likewise, a person would know the carrier is in the worst 1% of carriers that have measurable data.

A carrier’s absolute BASIC performance measure in any given month, not the carrier’s percentile within a given month, would be used to determine if the carrier failed the BASIC.

A carrier with an absolute performance measure that equals or is greater than the failure standard proposed in this document for the carrier’s safety-event group would fail that BASIC using only on-road safety data.

“Ensuring that motor carriers are operating safely on our nation’s roadways is one of our highest priorities,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “Using all available information  to achieve more timely assessments will allow us to better identify unsafe companies and get them off the road.”  

The agency is accepting comment on the rule for 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register, slated for Jan. 21.