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December 4, 2018 1:30 PM, EST

FMCSA Seeks Comments on Vehicle Maintenance Practices

A technician checks diagnostics on a tractor's engine A technician checks diagnostics on a tractor's engine. (Old Dominion Freight Line)

Federal trucking regulators have issued a request for comments on the role that vehicle maintenance plays in motor carrier safety. The responses will be included in research that will use online surveys to obtain data to address the study’s objectives.

“The survey described in this notice is to determine what improvements, ranging from better compliance interventions to better vehicle maintenance requirements, would enhance motor carrier safety,” a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Federal Register announcement said Nov. 27. The agency is seeking comments through Dec. 27.

FMCSA has contracted with the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute in Blacksburg to conduct the study.

A 2014 study by the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center looked at identifying the highest-risk motor carriers targeted for intervention using FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability Safety Measurement System.

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“One finding from the study was that motor carriers targeted for intervention due to vehicle maintenance issues had a 65% higher crash rate compared to the national average,” according to FMCSA. “While these initial findings are important, they raise additional questions.”

One question is prompted by a current regulation that states every carrier must have a program to “systematically inspect, repair and maintain all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.”

The problem is that the requirement does not adequately define “systematic,” which is “subjective and is likely to vary from one carrier to another,” the agency said.

FMCSA’s information collection request calls on commenters to develop an operational definition of “systemic maintenance,” evaluate whether current regulations and the intervention process could be modified to improve compliance, and gather information to assist in establishing minimum standards for inspection intervals, mechanic qualifications and training and certification of maintenance facilities.

The comments that are due Dec. 27 “will only be used to explore what areas of rulemaking and/or other areas, such as policy guidance and training, might be useful in the future.”

However, the results will not be used for rulemaking, FMCSA said.

The VTTI maintenance study will be conducted in two phases. The first will include an online, seven-question survey that will screen carriers and verify their eligibility for Phase 2.

Participants in Phase 2 will include carriers with the lowest percentiles in the Vehicle Maintenance and Crash Indicator Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories.

The other group eligible to participate in the project will be those that have experienced federal or state inventions in the past 24 months due to vehicle maintenance violations.

The Phase 2 portion of the study will include a voluntary 106-question survey that will touch on demographics, maintenance practices, intervals, personnel and facilities and state and federal inspections, according to FMCSA.

The results of the information collection will be documented in a technical report published by FMCSA. In addition, the agency said the results will be used to create a “recommended best practices” report that will outline minimum standards for inspection intervals, mechanic qualifications and training, and certification of maintenance facilities.