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March 14, 2016 3:30 AM, EDT

FMCSA Revises Process to Speed Up Investigations of High­-Risk Carriers

This story appears in the March 14 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has revamped its carrier prioritization process to enable safety investigators to take more immediate action against carriers with the highest crash risk.

In a Federal Register announcement on March 7, the agency said it has “sharpened” its high­-risk motor carrier definition and associated investigative procedural changes.

The changes correspond with the report, “Blueprint for Safety Leadership: Aligning Enforcement and Risk,” issued by a Federal Aviation Administration independent review team in July 2014, FMCSA said.

The report recommended, among other things, that FMCSA should sharpen its priority­-setting focus and improve the timeliness of investigator actions on those motor carriers representing the highest risk.

The report also noted that the current definition does not specify which carriers require the most urgent attention or allow for dynamic risk management.

The secretary of transportation asked the independent review team to provide information for his response to National Transportation Safety Board recommendations issued after its investigation of four commercial vehicle crashes. The information also would provide insight and perspective on other opportunities for FMCSA to improve motor carrier safety.

Under the agency’s previous policy, which the FMCSA revisions supersede, non­-passenger carriers that meet or exceed intervention thresholds for specific Compliance, Safety, Accountability program safety measurement categories for two consecutive months must receive an on-site investigation within 12 months, unless they received one within the previous 24 months.

Under the new definition, non­-passenger carriers are “high-risk” if they have two or more of the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category scores most closely correlated with crash risk, at or above the 90th percentile for one month and they have not received on-site investigation in the previous 12 months. They are: Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, Hours-of-Service Compliance and Vehicle Maintenance.

“The new definition will identify a smaller number of carriers, but this group of carriers will have a higher crash risk than the group of carriers identified under the current high­-risk definition,” the agency said. “This newly defined high­-risk list will be the agency’s investigative priority. It will allow the agency to more promptly conduct investigations of carriers that pose the greatest risk to public safety, rather than placing carriers at high crash risk in a longer queue of investigations.”

The change will not affect a carrier’s safety fitness rating, authority to operate or SMS percentiles and will not change the SMS methodology of how FMCSA makes enforcement decisions, the agency said.

FMCSA will accept comments on the new definition through May 6.

The agency said it also will introduce other changes to its prioritizaton over the next year to address other carriers with significant indicators of noncompliance and to improve the agency’s ability to manage risk and respond appropriately based on the best available data.

The independent review team also recommended that FMCSA “move beyond its focus on conducting compliance reviews and embrace a broader and more balanced portfolio of safety tools.”

The review also suggested an array of alternative safety initiatives and programs, including voluntary safety programs that might deliver safety enhancements that “move substantially beyond those achievable through traditional compliance methods.”

“In the motor carrier industry, where thousands of lives are lost and, on average, more than 100,000 are injured every year, the case for adopting a modern portfolio of strategies seems to us compelling,” the report said.