Fuel Smarts

Ferro Announces Crash Accountability Research Plans

July 23, 2012

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is going to take on three central questions in its analysis of the hot-button issue of crash accountability.

Are police accident reports reliable enough to determine accountability? Are the benefits of determining accountability worth the costs - as much as $3 million a year? And how should the agency manage the process, giving the public a chance to participate?


Agency Administrator Anne Ferro outlined these details, and a schedule for the year-long process, in remarks Monday to the Trucking Association Executives Council in Park City, Utah.

The At-Fault Question

The agency's handling of crash accountability has been a sore point for trucking interests. The concern is that the Safety Measurement System that the agency uses to rate carriers under its CSA enforcement program does not distinguish fault when it reports on crashes.

It rates a carrier's crash history in comparison to other carriers' history, presuming a certain degree of fault throughout the data. This has led to the conclusion that past crashes are a predictor of future crashes no matter who is at fault.

Trucking interests have long held that this melding of at-fault and not at-fault crashes is a flaw in the system, and the agency agrees.

At one point last spring the agency was close to proposing a method for distinguishing fault, but drew back out of concern that its approach was not going to be adequate.

Ferro Monday fulfilled an agency promise to announce a research schedule this month.

She said the research will include a broad study of police accident reports to see if they give reliable information, and if there should be other reporting to supplement them.

In addition, the agency will determine if an accountability determination will yield a better indicator of risk than the current system.

Ferro's Take

In an interview, Ferro said she does not expect that the agency will have to go through a rulemaking process to change the current system. "We expect to handle it administratively," she said.

She said she had "a good conversation" with the TAEC members on this issue. The organization represents the executive officers of the state trucking associations, which collectively form one branch of the national American Trucking Associations.

"(They are) a great bunch of seasoned professionals and subject matter experts in their own right, so that's a pretty sophisticated audience," she said. "I found their questions quite good."

Ferro herself is a former member of TAEC. She was president and CEO of the Maryland Motor Truck Association before President Obama nominated her to run the agency.

An ATA spokesman, Dave Osiecki, senior vice president for policy and regulatory affairs, said the association appreciates the agency's response to its request to post a timeline on the crash accountability analysis.

He added: "In the near term, FMCSA can and should weight crashes for which little or no analysis is needed. These crash types are well known and well understood by all involved."

Industry Criticism

An ATA spokesman, Dave Osiecki, senior vice president for policy and regulatory affairs, said the association appreciates the agency's response to its request to post a timeline on the crash accountability analysis.

He added: "In the near term, FMCSA can and should weight crashes for which little or no analysis is needed. These crash types are well known and well understood by all involved."

In her comments, Ferro addressed industry complaints about the agency's handling of crash accountability and other CSA matters.

"My biggest disappointment from the past few months has been the criticism of FMCSA for not being responsive and transparent," she said.

The agency takes the criticism seriously, she said. "I want the CSA program to be characterized as valuing feedback from all interested parties."

So what went wrong?

"A couple of things came into play," she said in the interview. "First, clearly, my decision to pursue additional analysis on crash weighting before we rolled out a proposed approach struck many in the community of industry representatives as a change that they did not see coming."

That created great frustration, she said.

Also frustrating is the agency's deliberate - some would say slow - pace of making fixes to CSA, she said.

In order to be sure everyone understands what's going on, the agency decided to make CSA adjustments only once or twice a year.

"I think that measured process doesn't move fast enough for all of us who want to see the changes that make sense (but) preserve the system's stability."

"What we thought was open and measured and appropriate probably also was perceived as a slowing down of program tweaks."

Ferro said the agency will bring the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee into the CSA planning process. The committee, a panel of 19 officials from industry, the enforcement community and labor and safety advocacy groups, will be tasked with forming a CSA Subcommittee next month, she said.

This will provide a way for truck safety interests to have a voice in how the crash accountability research is conducted, she said.

Ferro also noted in her remarks to TAEC that the agency has decided to give lower SMS weights for suspended-license violations that are not safety-related, such as failure to pay parking tickets.

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