God bless the squeaky wheel. Everyone has heard the saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease: well, now we have proof.
By the time you read this the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will have launched its CSA 2010 Data Preview website, which will allow a commercial motor vehicle carrier to view its safety performance data under the new Safety Management System’s (SMS) Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICS). The good news is that the FMCSA has listened to the numerous comments submitted by carriers operating in test states, industry organizations, carriers and individuals and — based on these comments — has made some changes to the SMS test methodology. In other words, the squeaky wheel just got greased.
In short, the FMCSA recognized four “opportunities” to improve its SMS methodology and these improvements will be implemented with the launch of the Data Preview Website referenced above. Specifically, the four opportunities are as follows:
• Modifications to the measure of exposure for the Unsafe Driving BASIC and Crash Indicator
• Refinements to the measurement approach to Controlled Substances/Alcohol BASIC
• Updates to the severity weights of roadside violations based on Subject Matter Expert review, and
• A more strategic approach to addressing motor carriers with a history of size and weight violations, which affects the Cargo-Related BASIC.
Modifications to the Unsafe Driving BASIC and Crash Indicator
The biggest change in CSA 2010 is the methodology the FMCSA will use in calculating the Unsafe Driver Basic and Crash Indicator. In summary, the FMCSA has determined that measuring a carrier’s exposure based solely on the number of power units it operates may overly identify as deficient carriers with more power units than the national average per power unit rate. Accordingly, the FMCSA has modified its methodology to include not only power units but also is adding in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT). The new formula that the FMCSA will use will include a "utilization factor" based on whether the carrier has combination vehicles (tractor and trailers) or straight trucks. This will be used in conjunction with vehicle miles traveled to calculate Unsafe Driving and Crash Indicator scores. In light of this, it is extremely important that carriers keep their fleet size current on its MCS 150 form. In addition, carriers will be separated into two groups based on the type of vehicle operated so that carriers operating different types of vehicles will no longer be compared with each other.
Refinements to Controlled Substances/Alcohol BASIC
Based on results from the test period and industry comments, the FMCSA determined that violations of the Controlled Substance /Alcohol BASIC are most often found during inspections. As a result, the measure of exposure for this BASIC will now be based on the number of relevant inspections as opposed to the number of power units as noted in the earlier version of the SMS methodology.
Updates to the severity weights of roadside violations
Based on information from its field staff, including enforcement personnel, and CSA 2010 development team members relating to the relationship between crash risk and violations certain modifications have been made to severity weights associated with the SMS methodology and new violations have been added while others have been removed. In fact, new violation tables in the safety measurement system have added 31 new violations while 300 violations have been removed. This leaves approximately 600 total violations in the new tables. In light of the modifications, the severity weight values of 260 of these violations have changed with most changes occurring in the Cargo Related Basic. Many of these scores went from one point in severity to a much higher number. In fact, many went from 1 point to 10 points. Interestingly, in the Unsafe Driving Basic, 5 new violation levels were also introduced. Included in the revision is a multi-level speed violation format with severity points ranging from 1 point (for speeds that are 1 to 5 miles over the posted limit) to 10 points (for speeding in a construction zone).
A more strategic approach to size and weight violations
Results from the test period revealed certain difficulties in enforcing size and weight violations through interventions. Accordingly, the FMCSA is now considering alternative methods to address this issue. In the interim, the size and weight violations have been removed from the Cargo-Related BASIC calculation. However, roadside inspections will continue to cite these violations and Safety Investigators will continue to address these violations.
At the end of the day, the above modifications illustrate that industry comments have not fallen on deaf ears. The FMCSA is willing to listen and make changes when appropriate. Moreover, these modifications should result in lower CSA 2010 SMS scores for carriers, which is a good thing. However, there is still room for improvement and I anticipate that more changes are coming. With that in mind I suggest that we keep making noise about changes we believe can improve CSA 2010 such as dismissing or reducing citations from your BASIC score when a judge dismisses or reduces those very citations in a court of law. Somehow drivers just want the opportunity to defend themselves before a real judge and not have the officer that wrote the warning/inspection/citation acting as judge, jury and executioner. Keep talking and commenting, who knows, we may just get greased.
Jim C. Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm dedicated to legal defense of the nation's commercial drivers. Interstate Trucker represents truck drivers throughout the 48 states on both moving and non-moving violations. He is also president of Drivers Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at discounted rates. He is a lawyer who has focused on transportation law and the trucking industry in particular. He works to answer your legal questions about trucking and life over-the-road and has his CDL.
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