A congressional hearing held last September concluded with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration assuring stakeholders that refinements to the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program were under way and that more were scheduled in the near future.
In fact, the agency concurred with committee members and transportation industry representatives that continual improvement to the safety fitness program was vital in order to aptly determine if a motor carrier meets the standards for safe operation.
In December, the agency made good on its commitment to install refinements to the CSA initiative by implementing 11 changes to the Safety Measurement System, something they had already begun working on months prior to the congressional hearing. These enhancements are intended to provide the agency with a means of more clearly identifying unsafe carriers, not just those who may be negligent in their record keeping compliance.
The most significant change was the creation of the new Hazmat BASIC, which covers the regulations regarding packaging and transporting hazmat, and identifying and communicating hazmat information.
The new HM BASIC immediately expanded the list of violations that had already existed in the now defunct Cargo-Related BASIC to a total of almost 350 hazmat violations, an increase of more than 100 violations being tracked in the SMS.
While this list of violations in the HM BASIC may seem oppressive to carriers who may only dabble in this commerce, the FMCSAs intention is to level the playing field for all motor carriers with transporters of hazardous materials being held to higher standards.
One of the changes implemented was to clearly define who is an HM carrier and who is not. An HM carrier is one that has had two HM roadside inspections take place in the last 24 months, with at least one of the inspections having been in the last 12 months. An HM inspection is one where the vehicle was transporting an amount or type of hazardous material that required placarding. A carrier is automatically considered an HM carrier if it has an FMCSA HM safety permit.
One other part of the new HM BASIC worth noting is that the general public will not have access to the rankings of hazmat carriers in this BASIC for at least another year. Only law enforcement personnel and the carriers themselves will know how their safety performance stacks up against their peers and what adjustments they will have to initiate to lower their score in the HM BASIC.
Reasons for this may be two-fold:
1) the FMCSA will continue to fine-tune this BASIC in the months to come in order to make sure the methodology is fair, and
2) the publics interpretation of BASIC scores can be, at times, unfavorable to the efforts of a motor carrier. As a result, the agency seems to offer an umbrella of protection for themselves and the hazmat carriers until this matter is sustainable.
Other changes to the SMS include:
- Moving non-hazmat cargo securement violations that were previously contained in the Cargo-Related BASIC to the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC. Cargo securement violation severity ratings were lowered as well.
- Counting intermodal equipment violations that drivers should have found during pretrip inspections.
- Removing speeding violations that are 1-5 mph over the speed limit in order to be consistent with speedometer regulations, which require that speedometers be accurate within 5 mph. This change was also applied to the prior 24 months worth of data in the SMS. A few other violations were dropped as well.
- Changing the name of the Fatigued Driving BASIC to the Hours-of-Service (HOS) Compliance BASIC to more accurately describe violations contained within the BASIC.
- Using the same severity weighting for paper and electronic logbook violations to be fair.
- Not recording and scoring in the SMS vehicle violations discovered during driver-only inspections and driver violations discovered during vehicle-only inspections.
One thing is quite clear upon review of these changes: Management of motor carriers must continue to adapt to the changes going on throughout the transportation industry.
It is not a matter of new regulations changing the way a carrier goes about their business. In fact, the regulations have not changed much over the course of their existence. Updated, yes, to reflect changes in society such as alcohol and drug usage, and technology such as the use of mobile telephones and other devices for communication, and even recordkeeping methods now that electronic means are present and available to us in the 21st Century.
Safe highways by making the regulations apparent to all stakeholders through enforcement is the basis for these changes and for those yet to come. Within the next year, more changes will be introduced to motor carriers as the agency continues to fine-tune their CSA instrument.
Already, the FMCSA is examining major changes to the violation severity weights, to the recalibration of the utilization factor used to figure vehicle miles traveled for the Crash Indicator and Unsafe Driving BASICs, and to the safety event groups in all the BASICs. FMCSA is also continuing to examine several issues with the Crash BASIC.
When these changes become a part of the new transportation industry, management again will make the adjustments, the same as they do when new equipment or technology is developed that steers us away from the old way of doing things and into the best way to be safe on our highways and secure in our business.
For current findings and how the SMS changes may have affected their SMS results, motor carriers are encouraged to check their safety data at http://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms. For complete details on the new SMS improvements, visit the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) website at http://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/.