The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced a plan to remove some types of truck crashes from how it tracks and scores trucking companies’ safety records. The FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) site, which compiles safety data on the nation’s motor carriers, had been criticized in the past for including collisions that may not have been the fault of the truck driver or trucking company. The agency has been testing the revised system since 2017, but now plans on making the changes more permanent.
FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System
“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) core mission is to prevent crashes, injuries, and fatalities related to large trucks and buses on our Nation’s roads.” Working toward this goal, the SMS is designed to help motor carriers incorporate federal safety rules into their operations. Adherence to these regulations is assessed by reviewing on-road performance and compliance, then analyzing the data into seven categories: Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, Hours- of-Service Compliance, Vehicle Maintenance, Controlled Substances/Alcohol, Hazardous Materials Compliance (HM), and Driver Fitness. These categories are referred to as Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, and are commonly referred to as a BASIC score. The BASIC score for every motor carrier in the United States is used to create a percentile-based safety ranking.
The Crash Indicator category had included all crashes involving a motor carrier’s trucks, regardless of fault. While this made the scoring system easier from a data-collection standpoint, it drew the ire of the trucking industry because it arguably penalized a truck or bus driver for a crash that was caused by someone else.
Certain types of truck crashes eligible for review
The “new” program will allow carriers, including owner-operator truck drivers, to contest certain crashes. If the crash is determined not to be the fault of the carrier or driver, the resulting points would be removed from the Crash Indicator score, thereby improving (or, more accurately, not reducing) the percentile ranking.
With the program, the following types of crashes are eligible for review:
- When the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) was struck by a motorist driving under the influence (or related offense)
- When the CMV was struck by a motorist driving the wrong direction
- When the CMV was struck in the rear
- When the CMV was struck while legally stopped or parked, including when the vehicle was unattended
- When the CMV struck an individual committing or attempting to commit suicide by stepping or driving in front of the CMV
- When the CMV sustained disabling damage after striking an animal in the roadway
- When the crash was the result of an infrastructure failure, falling trees, rocks, or other debris
- When the CMV was struck by cargo or equipment from another vehicle
Beginning in October, the FMCSA will begin accepting review requests for the following additional types of truck and bus crashes:
- When a truck is hit by a vehicle that did not stop or slow in traffic.
- When a truck is hit by a vehicle that failed to stop at a red light, stop sign or yield sign.
- When a truck is hit by a vehicle that was making a U-turn or illegal turn
- When a truck is hit by a vehicle driven by a driver who experienced a medical issue that caused the crash.
- When a truck is hit by a driver who admits to falling asleep or being distracted (by a phone, passengers, etc.)
- When a crash involves a driver under the influence.
- When a crash involves a driver operating in the wrong direction, even if the truck was hit by another vehicle other than the one driving in the wrong direction.
As with many revisions to regulations and review processes, the potential impact will likely not be fully seen for some time. From a common sense standpoint, it seems fair that carriers shouldn’t be penalized for a crash that is neither their nor their driver’s fault. While that is true, there are questions that need to be addressed:
- Who reviews the requests?
- What kind of investigation is involved in the review?
- Will there be transparency?
- Will the review process be adequately funded and staffed? Or will a backlog of requests lead to nothing happening?
If the plan works as intended, it should result it more accurate safety rankings for carriers. This would, in theory, lead to safer motor carriers have better scores, and less safe motor carriers having worse scores. Obvious as this may seem, it is critically important for people who care about highway safety. A more credible scoring system would allow companies to select safer carriers to transport their cargo. A more reliable safety ranking would let shippers avoid carriers that cut corners and ignore rules and regulations intended to protect the general public.
Speaking from experience handling numerous truck crash cases, the truck is not always at fault. Or, I should say, one of the trucks isn’t always at fault. In many of our trucking cases, we represent a truck driver who was hit by another truck. Being on the road so frequently, it stands to reason truckers are more exposed to getting hit by other trucks. In a very real sense, safe trucking benefits truckers. Adhering to hours-of-service limits, hiring qualified drivers, and implementing drug awareness programs are all examples of actions carriers should be rewarded for. Safe truckers and truck companies that follow the rules should be advocating for any system that ranks them higher than those that do not.
Correctly identifying who is safe and who is not is a step in the right direction for everyone.