New Proposal Sets a Higher Bar for Bigger Fleets – Is that Fair?

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Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed a new method for assigning motor carriers’ safety fitness determinations (SFD), commonly called safety ratings.

Currently, safety ratings are assigned after the completion of a labor-intensive compliance review (CR) – or audit – of records at the carrier’s place of business.

FMCSA now proposes to also use data from its Compliance Safety, Accountability (CSA) Safety Measurement System (SMS), in addition to information gathered during on-site compliance reviews, to make SFDs on a monthly basis.

A determination of “Unfit” would be assigned to carriers with exceptionally poor performance in any two CSA measurement categories, called Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), based solely on roadside inspection data, CR data, or a combination of the two.

Given the sheer volume of available roadside inspection data in their system, the proposed method would allow the agency to assess a much larger number of motor carriers with more recent and relevant data.

Rather than using carriers’ CSA scores (a.k.a. percentile ranks) to assign SFDs, as some had anticipated, FMCSA plans to use SMS “measures” to do so.

A “measure” is best described as a ratio of violations to inspections – or some other measure of exposure (e.g., fleet size and mileage).

For example, if a fleet had amassed 30 points for vehicle violations over the past two years, stemming from 100 inspections, their measure would be .30 (100  ÷ 30).

To determine a carrier’s “fitness” based on roadside inspection data, the carrier’s measures would be compared each month against a “failure standard,” a high threshold established in each BASIC.

FMCSA proposes setting the failure standards at between the 96th and 99th percentile, depending on the BASIC.

So using the example above, provided the carrier isn’t in the worst 4% of carriers in its “safety event group” (description to follow), then the carrier would not be considered “unfit.”

The rub, however, is that fitness determinations will be a function of how the carrier performs compared with others in these groups.

Safety event groups are generally established by number of inspections; for instance, all carriers with between 20 and 100 inspections would be placed in the same group for comparison.

So while the carrier’s measure, or ratio of violations to inspections (e.g., .30), might be below the failure threshold in its group, for a carrier in another group that same ratio might be above the threshold – because it is being compared against different carriers (e.g., those with 101 – 500 inspections).

Generally speaking, these are larger fleets since they typically have more inspections than smaller ones.

FMCSA justifies this method of assessment by pointing out that small carriers, with fewer inspections, have scores that are more volatile since a single inspection or violation can cause their ratio of the two to change dramatically.

This is true.

The agency likens it to baseball players’ batting averages.

These averages are not reliable after just a few at bats as they can reflect happenstance and anomalies, not a pattern of sustained performance.

But a mid-season batting average is, in fact, seen as a reliable reflection of the individual’s performance.

In effect, what FMCSA’s proposal does is suggest that there should be different standards for fitness based largely on carrier size.

Some would argue that doing so is unfair and inappropriate.

At a minimum, it’s a thought-provoking proposition.

But if this proposal isn’t the right answer, what is?

The vast majority of carriers are small and have relatively few inspections.

To contend that one of them is “unfit” based on violations found during just a handful of inspections would likely be inaccurate and, moreover, unfair.

So what’s the right answer?

ATA prepared this blog entry for HireRight for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to be comprehensive, and is not a substitute for and should not be construed as legal advice. ATA and HireRight do not warrant any statements in the HireRight Blog. Any statutes or laws cited herein should be read in their entirety.  You should direct to your own experienced legal counsel questions involving your organization’s compliance with or interpretation or application of laws or regulations and any additional legal requirements that may apply.

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Rob Abbott

Rob Abbott is Vice President of Safety Policy for the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the largest national trade association representing the trucking industry. In this capacity, he promotes and defends the interests of ATA’s members on safety issues such as hours of service, driver medical requirements, electronic logging devices, drug/alcohol testing, driver licensing, and FMCSA’s safety monitoring and enforcement program: Compliance, Safety, Accountability. Mr. Abbott’s responsibilities include working closely with Federal regulators to ensure common-sense changes to the regulations and appropriate enforcement practices. He also supports ATA’s Legislative Affairs Division in their efforts to educate lawmakers on matters relating to commercial motor vehicle safety. Abbott is a member of FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and the National Safety Council.

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