April 11, 2007 10:45 AM, EDT

FMCSA’s New-Carrier Program Criticized

Opponents Question Use Of SafeStat System

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

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A number of trade and interest groups criticized the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for its strengthened requirements for new entrants into the trucking industry. They questioned the agency’s methodology, including use of the agency’s SafeStat system, and said the regulation would hurt business.

“FMCSA makes use of a scientifically challenged study to impute an increase in the safety risks associated with new entrant motor carriers,” the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said. “The reliance on a faulty study that utilized SafeStat as a basis to promulgate this rule leads OOIDA to question if the agency is responding to a congressional mandate with a poorly conceived agenda.”

SafeStat, FMCSA’s program to analyze carrier crash and safety data, has been criticized heavily by a number of groups for data inaccuracies and incompleteness, as well as the formula it uses to analyze the data.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said, while it “supports several of the specific proposals of the agency to strengthen the new entrant approval process, we continue to object to the agency’s ongoing use of . . .  the Safety Status Measurement System (SafeStat).”

Summing up its objections to the use of SafeStat, Advocates said it “continues to strongly disagree with FMCSA on its basic approach to new entrant application, grants of temporary registration and operation authority, and grants of permanent registration and operating authority following the 18-month probationary period for new entrants.”

The safety group also took issue with FMCSA’s decision not to require inspections and audits before companies begin operations. Advocates said it supports “a pre-authorization [safety audit] for U.S. motor carriers, coupled with a written proficiency examination to determine the knowledge and capabilities of new entrant motor carriers for complying with [federal rules].”

“The agency advances no rationale in the preamble of the proposed rule for why a pre-authorization [audit] is necessary for certain foreign motor carriers but is not needed for U.S. applicant motor carriers,” the safety group said.

The proposal, published in December, identifies 11 rules and regulations as “essential elements of basic safety management controls necessary to operate in interstate commerce and proposes that failure to comply with any one of the 11 regulations would result in automatic failure of the audit.”

Those elements include a drug and alcohol testing program, using disqualified drivers or equipment, or not having an inspection program.

One of the ways the agency identifies carriers to audit under the new entrant program is its SafeStat data analysis program.

American Trucking Associations said it had “concerns that the selection criteria for automatic failure and expedited action are unintentionally too specific for practical conduct of safety audits.”

In its comments, ATA said that nine of the 11 regulatory violations were “written with wording in singular form,” which could be problematic, “especially for large motor carriers.”

“There is a problem in using ‘single’ measures, [such] as ‘a driver’ or a ‘commercial motor vehicle’ in that [it] does not allow for proportion of scale,” the federation said.

OOIDA also criticized the rule as potentially damaging to smaller businesses.

“FMCSA’s proposal will increase the small business failure rate,” the driver group said. “This is not a proactive proposal, insofar as it is reactive and punitive to small businesses, in many cases owned and operated by one individual who is responsible for all facets of their operation from driving the truck to maintaining the proper back-office files.”

However, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance said in comments to the agency that it is “a strong supporter” of the new proposed rule, which raises the standards for new entrants and specifies a number of violations what would disqualify new trucking companies from operating.

“We agree with and support the 11 regulatory violations FMCSA identifies in the [rule] as reflecting a clear lack of basic safety management control and that these violations should result in a failure of the audit,” CVSA said, but it noted that “those failing the safety audit, especially those not taking corrective action, need to have efficient and effective follow-up and/or enforcement action taken.”

FMCSA is “currently reviewing the comments that were submitted,” said agency spokesman Duane DeBruyne.