FMCSA Getting Closer to Decision on Crash Accountability

September 03, 2013

By Oliver Patton

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has finished its analysis of crash accountability and is now reviewing the work in preparation for public release.

An agency spokesperson, Marissa Padilla, could not say how long the review will take but it is apparent that after more than a year’s effort the agency is approaching a decision about this lightning-rod issue.

Transportation interests have been at odds over crash accountability ever since the agency began to deploy its CSA safety enforcement system in 2010.

The agency’s approach was to aggregate crash data in the CSA Safety Measurement System without reference to fault as it tracks a carrier’s safety performance.

It explained that its ability to distinguish fault was limited, and, overall, there is a statistical probability that some of the crashes will be the carrier’s fault.

This gave rise to the contention by both the agency and the safety advocacy community that past crashes are a predictor of future crashes no matter who is at fault.

But for trucking interests, it is intuitively and logically incorrect to include non-fault crashes in a system that measures safety performance.

“It’s simply outrageous to motor carriers that crashes that are not their fault are used to prioritize enforcement against them,” said Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy at American Trucking Associations.

The agency acknowledged carriers’ concerns and at one point in early 2012 was close to making changes but then pulled back, saying it needed to answer some questions that had been raised by safety advocates.

This led to the analysis that now is under review at the agency.

The analysis looks at three questions. Are police accident reports reliable enough to determine accountability? Will a system that includes accountability be a better predictor of future safety than one that does not? And how should the agency manage the process, giving the public a chance to participate?

As part of its analysis, the agency asked its civilian advisory board, the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to weigh in on the issue.

The board still is working on its report but its draft recommendations agree on some points and disagree on others.

A key area of agreement is that the agency should extend its efforts on determining fault in crashes.

Specifically, the draft says the agency should look past police accident reports to other investigations that might apply, such as criminal reports, civil lawsuits or accident reconstruction reports.

Also, that the agency also should look at the research that’s been done on the accuracy of police reports, and should consider alternatives – and the cost of those alternatives – for determining fault in a crash.

The draft also highlights the same differences that have divided the transportation community from the beginning.

A majority of those who prepared the draft said that when the carrier clearly is not at fault the crash should not be counted in the carrier’s Crash Indicator score.

But a smaller group, representing the safety advocacy community, said that all crash reports, regardless of fault, should go into the score.

Their fear is that in the process of assigning fault the police report will be misinterpreted, and that the cost of determining fault will be greater than the benefit.

Trucking interests agree that it will not be possible to determine fault in all crashes, but argue that when a crash is clearly not the carrier’s fault it should not be included.

These are the key questions the agency will have to resolve with its decision. It may be that the research will provide convincing enough evidence to settle these differences, but it’s just as likely that the outcome will be continued dissatisfaction with this aspect of the CSA program.


  1. 1. Kurt [ September 03, 2013 @ 06:49AM ]

    The real problem is that the "safety advocacy community" is only interested in pursuing safety restrictions that apply to the trucking industry, and have blinders on to the vast majority of fatalities that do not involve commercial vehicles.

  2. 2. gary bary [ September 03, 2013 @ 07:27AM ]

    So while the FMCSA has encouraged any eligible law enforcement agency to harass the trucking industry, they've always deemed them too stupid to write an accurate accident report.

  3. 3. Janelle Decker Molony [ September 03, 2013 @ 08:47AM ]

    It is not up to the FMCSA to negotiate or investigate and determine fault for any accidents. This is why we have local law enforcement and insurance companies to support the system. I whole heartedly believe that NAF (not-at-fault) accidents should not be included as a discriminating mark against a motor carrier. Due to circumstances that were not in their control, they could receive a heavily weighted score against them, instigating a company-wide audit on all of their business practices in terms of motor carrier compliance. Now, I do believe that regular and discretionary (triggered) audits are a good system to help keep us all accountable for our actions, but these accidents are not ours to be accountable for. If there is a greater purpose for collecting accident data, this can be collected through the pubic enforcement agencies, through insurance surveys and through anonymous company surveys. The advocacy need not ride the shirt tails of the FMCSA, tainting the data pool to get what it needs.

  4. 4. John [ September 03, 2013 @ 12:20PM ]

    When you use tainted data to get the results you seek, you usually end up pleasing those that scream the loudest. Several yrs ago, the guy that had the big posters, and showed up at every truck safety rally, claiming that his child had been killed by a truck, failed to tell anybody he was driving drunk, and pulled into the path of the truck,causing the fatal accident. This "tainted" the evidence, but was allowed. Every news camera focused on him, which made it appear the driver/company was responsible, while in fact it was the opposite.
    Afterall FMCSA is a gov't. run organization. And we all know how deceiving the gov't. can be.

  5. 5. wesley beckham [ September 03, 2013 @ 05:49PM ]

    also don't forget the prejudices against truck drivers

  6. 6. david logan [ September 03, 2013 @ 06:32PM ]

    figures don't lie but liars can figure, The vast majority of accidents either do not involve a truck or was caused by a 4 wheeler, however the professional driver was blamed. It's time that the 4 wheelers were accountable for their actions. The vast majority of truckers use their signals, follow the rules. the vast majority of 4 wheelers do what ever the hell they want and when they mess up the look for the closest truck to blame it on. there are some bad apples and every now and then a driver forgets his signal or something, but if you compared number of miles driven verses those moments the 4 wheelers must be at 50 to 1 ratio for bad driving skills.

  7. 7. john barley [ September 05, 2013 @ 12:41AM ]

    You will note I am from the insurance industry but my interests in the transport industry has not come from the point of wanting to sell more insurance but more to understand whats going on and ask the hard questions. One question that no one seems to be able or be prepared to ask is "why: are these accidents occurring. Its great being able to measure and to record statistics to define a trend but it seems to me that people are not prepared to ask the hard question "Why" .
    After doing two years of research supported by my years of handling for not only trucks but also cargo claims and business claims it really comes down to a simple answer. Its the guy behind the wheel. Trucks and cars don't have accidents by themselves. Its the human element that is the problem. One of the facts that I have learnt is that the drivers are predominantly under continual stress biologically psychologically and Physiologically and to a point socially as well. This stress has been over a long period of time and you can talk to any doctor and they will tell you that prolonged stress leads to Fatigue , Anxiety and Depression . The end result is accidents and death on the roads. This heart breaking result is calmly and clinically collected into a range of statistics for future analysis to detect trends whilst the carnage continues. I call it silent wastage which results in reduced productivity and profitability of many businesses.

  8. 8. Joan [ September 05, 2013 @ 08:11AM ]

    Take a look at the "commercial" traffic on this two lane as the officers conduct their investigation. What is all that commercial traffic doing there?
    How about a highway, or expand the lanes and road. Looks rural to me!

  9. 9. Herman [ September 07, 2013 @ 12:03PM ]

    Traffic Accidents are unplanned acts that involve vehicles at a particular time and place...the solution is obvious ...da?!


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