January 9, 2017 2:15 PM, EST

TRB Subcommittee Wants Help From Carriers on FMCSA Alternative Compliance Research

WASHINGTON — Members of a Transportation Research Board subcommittee continued exploring potential ideas aimed at assisting federal truck and bus regulators in establishing a congressionally mandated “alternative compliance” program that would reward carriers for exceeding regulatory requirements.

One of the more promising ideas included the use of data fleets are collecting that might help prove that safety systems such as lane departure and crash avoidance deployed by carriers are reducing crashes.

“Do they actually assure safety outcomes, do we even know they are turned on, are they actually used for other purposes, are they on all the trucks in the fleet?” asked Brenda Lantz, subcommittee chairman and associate director of the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University.

“I have investigated many crashes in my career, large and small motor carriers,” said Michael Fox, a highway accident investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board but who is not a member of the subcommittee. “But some of the things that I found, especially in some of the large companies, is they don’t do anything with the technology; they don’t analyze the data.”

Fox added, “That’s very profound. These are companies that have the wherewithal, but they don’t analyze or do any internal research. Folks of your caliber should be analyzing this data.”

In addition to safety technologies, the subcommittee discussed possible research needs in the areas of how carriers’ safety cultures and best practices could be included in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Beyond Compliance” effort at the TRB 2017 annual meeting here.

But, so far, the subcommittee has had difficulty recommending specific research projects and at one point a year ago considered dissolving itself.

Members also discussed such voluntary alternative compliance programs already in place as Trucksafe in Australia, the American Chemistry Association’s Responsible Care Program, SmartWay and alternative compliance for the offshore oil and gas industry.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in April 2015 issued a request for public comment on its initiative to find ways to reward carriers who deploy safety technologies or implement safety programs before they are implemented by the agency.

The proposed methodology of alternative compliance has been controversial in the trucking industry, especially among independent operators and their trade association, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

American Trucking Associations supports the idea of finding ways to reward carriers that have voluntarily adopted tools and technologies meant to improve safety.

The sticking point has been finding a way to incentivize trucking companies to exceed regulatory expectations. So far, the agency has proposed that the program create a new CSA Beyond Compliance BASIC category that would show up in carriers’ CSA scores.

The agency said, however, the initiative will not result in regulatory relief.

FMCSA still is seeking comment on what voluntary technologies or safety program best practices would be appropriate for beyond compliance, what type of incentives would encourage motor carriers to invest in technologies and best practices programs, and how the agency could verify that the voluntary technologies or safety programs were being implemented.