FMCSA previews safety fitness determination rule

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FMCSA’s Joe Delorenzo at Omnitracs conference in Dallas

A spokesperson for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently gave some insights into what motor carriers can expect from the Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rule, which the agency expects to publish in June.

Joe DeLorenzo, FMCSA director, Office of Enforcement and Compliance, spoke at the Omnitracs Outlook user conference, Feb. 8-10 in Dallas.

Compliance, Safety, Accountability is a three-part program. The Safety Measurement System (SMS) and CSA intervention process comprise the first two parts; the SFD rule is the third, he said.

SMS is a computerized process that identifies unsafe carriers by mapping violation data from 3.5 million roadside inspections that take place every year to seven assessment categories, called BASICs, and by using Peer Group rankings.

Carriers identified by SMS as unsafe are prioritized for CSA interventions in the form of warning letters, onsite investigations and compliance reviews. With only 325 human resources to conduct CSA interventions, the challenge for FMCSA, and thus the need for the SFD rule, is to reach more carriers and have more current safety ratings for the 525,000 active motor carriers in its database, he said.

When the Safety Fitness Determination rule is published, the agency will have the legal authority to assign monthly safety ratings — satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory — to carriers based on an algorithm rather than conducting manual compliance reviews.

To determine safety ratings, FMCSA will look for patterns of behaviors and violations in specific areas. Six of the seven BASICs show positive correlation with crashes, he said, offering up the Unsafe Driving and the Driver Fitness as examples.

Some in the transportation industry have argued that crash correlation exists only for three BASICs. DeLorenzo sidestepped this controversy by using speeding as a prime example of the type of patterns that could impact carrier safety ratings. Speeding violations are assigned to the Unsafe Driving BASIC.

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DeLorenzo also debunked the myth that Peer Group percentiles will be used to determine safety fitness.

“That is the relative part of system,” he said. “I get that people don’t want to have a moving target when they are trying to figure out what their rating is going to be.”

Rather, safety fitness determinations will be derived from problems motor carriers are having in specific areas, over a certain point in time, he said.

“My suspicion is that when it comes to the SFD, I’m probably not going to run into a lot of issues with people in this room,” he said. Fleets who attended the Omnitracs Outlook conference use technologies such as critical event reporting and electronic logs for safety and compliance.

DeLorenzo also touched on how FMCSA is using crash data for SMS scores and how crashes will impact safety fitness ratings. The agency submitted a detailed report to Congress in January that explains how crashes are weighted in the SMS, he said.

Scores for the Crash Indicator BASIC are not displayed publicly on the CSA website but are listed privately for motor carriers to review. About 120,000 crashes that involve commercial motor vehicles are reported into SMS every year, but “we don’t make any determination as to what a carrier’s role in a crash is,” he emphasized.

Only crashes that involve an investigation can affect the safety rating of carriers, he said, but those with crashes tend to have more crashes.

“(Crash frequency) is a pretty good predictor to see exactly how things are working there,” he cautioned.

The agency is conducting a study to determine if police accident reports (PAR) can be used for assigning accountability for crashes. The study is ongoing, but DeLorenzo said the agency does not get PARs on all crashes and the data quality is suspect. As part of the study, the agency compared PARs to fatal accident reports to validate the data.

“There is a fair amount of mismatch with data. We are not sure which one is right,” he added. “Every crash is different and not every crash is an easy crash. It turns out to be complicated.”

The FMCSA is looking for comments on what other sources of data could be used to determine crash accountability. It wants to collect responses by the end of the month, though “we are probably going to extend (the deadline),” he said.

In summary, DeLorenzo said the SFD rule will establish procedures for how the agency will use data in the SMS to identify patterns of violations. For cases where the data is incorrect, he urged motor carriers to use the Data Q system to ask for corrections.

“The system is there for you to help us to make sure the data is good,” he said.