May 23, 2016

Truck safety consultant casts doubt on FMCSA's carrier-grading proposal

New rules will barely move needle on identifying high-risk carriers, Vigillo says.

By Mark B. Solomon

The federal government's proposed rules to measure a motor carrier's fitness to operate will not identify any more potentially unfit carriers than does the government's current system, a prominent carrier-safety consultant said today.

Portland, Ore.-based Vigillo LLC said in comments filed with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that based on the size of the country's motor carrier fleet as of April, FMCSA's new proposal would be able to identify only 67 more interstate carriers as unfit that might have escaped such a rating under the current system. The parameters set by the agency to capture unfit carriers will represent only a 0.4-percent improvement above the current threshold of 15,000 carriers that are typically investigated each year on fitness grounds, it said.

In the comments, Vigillo compared the extent of the increase to being asked to work 0.4 percent more during a 40-hour week and clocking in at just nine additional minutes. The program is "ineffective in identifying a significant population of high-risk motor carriers," Vigillo wrote.

The comments, submitted by Vigillo's founder and CEO Steve Bryan, come on the last day of a federally mandated comment period on what is known as the FMCSA's "Safety Fitness Determination," or SFD, program. Proposed in mid-January, the directive would replace a three-tiered rating system of "satisfactory, conditional, and unsatisfactory," with a single rating called "unfit." A carrier's fitness would be based on its performance under five of the seven so-called BASIC categories that are the agency's data measuring stick, along with the results of carrier investigations and crash reports. The proposed rule would require written proof of a "significant pattern of noncompliance" for a carrier to fail in one of the categories.

In a nod to industry concerns that carriers are graded on a curve that includes others with poorer scores, FMCSA said a carrier's status would not be affected by the performance of other truckers. The agency will, for the first time, allow certain data from truck-related crashes into its calculations, and will also give carriers credit in its determinations for developing safety initiatives.

FMCSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation, said its goal is to remove as many unfit motor carriers as possible from the road with a relatively modest number of inspectors. The agency oversees between 530,000 to 620,000 interstate carriers. Carriers found to be unfit under the new formula will be ordered out of service and not reinstated until they've shown sufficient improvement, FMCSA said.

The agency said in January that such a streamlined carrier-grading system would enable it to determine the fitness of 75,000 carriers each month, an exponential increase from present-day levels.

The battle to revamp the government's carrier-fitness determination process began in 2007, and was amplified three years later when FMCSA rolled out the "Compliance, Safety, Accountability" program, better known as CSA. One of the most controversial trucking policies ever put forth, the program has been attacked from the start by shippers, carriers, and brokers as being based on flawed and incomplete data that tars safe carriers with the same broad brush as unsafe ones.

Last December's five-year federal transport spending bill directed FMCSA to commission a study of the CSA program by the Transportation Research Board. It also ordered the agency to remove comparative scores and analysis from public view, but to retain the raw data used to compile the scores for viewing on its web site. However, industry groups have said the accuracy of the data remains dubious, and all the agency is doing by posting just raw data is showing the numbers in a different way.

For its part, Vigillo is selling a software program it said eliminates the inherent flaws of CSA and provides an accurate and reliable scoring standard.

About the Author

Mark B. Solomon
Executive Editor - News
Mark Solomon joined DC VELOCITY as senior editor in August 2008, and was promoted to his current position on January 1, 2015. He has spent more than 30 years in the transportation, logistics and supply chain management fields as a journalist and public relations professional. From 1989 to 1994, he worked in Washington as a reporter for the Journal of Commerce, covering the aviation and trucking industries, the Department of Transportation, Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court. Prior to that, he worked for Traffic World for seven years in a similar role. From 1994 to 2008, Mr. Solomon ran Media-Based Solutions, a public relations firm based in Atlanta. He graduated in 1978 with a B.A. in journalism from The American University in Washington, D.C.

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