This latest study, released this year, builds on earlier research that draws the same conclusion. The first study was done in 1988 after economic deregulation made it relatively easy to get operating authority. Researchers found that new carriers, in general, had higher crash rates than experienced carriers and that they were less likely to be in compliance with federal safety regulations. They reasoned that there is a “safety learning curve” for motor carriers.
A 1998 study done by the Federal Highway Administration found that motor carriers with less than two years of experience had far higher rates of driver regulation and safety management violations than their more experienced counterparts. (The study, it should be noted, looked at intrastate hazardous materials as well as interstate truck and bus companies).
Furthermore, the incidence of violations declined steadily as a carrier’s experience increased. FHWA’s study thus confirmed the existence of that safety learning curve described a decade earlier.
The 1998 study failed to find a link between the age of a carrier and its accident rate, but FMCSA’s new study makes that connection. It calculated accident rates per million vehicle miles and ranked carriers according to their rate of recordable accidents.
Carriers with rates falling in the worst 25th percentile were considered deficient in their accident experience. Nearly half of all new carriers were in that deficient category. Less than one-fourth of experienced carriers have similarly high accident rates.
FMCSA’s study not only raises concerns about the safety of new carriers but also about federal enforcement of safety regulations. Although new entrant carrier have higher accident and violation rates, enforcement and compliance activities have been focused on established carriers. This is because the computerized system that helps select carriers for compliance reviews and roadside inspections requires 30 months of data before a carrier is highlighted.
FMCSA recognizes the weakness in its program and has now begun efforts to help new entrant carriers improve their safety performance.
It is considering the development of a New Entrant Program that would require new carriers to receive educational material and to then apply for “prequalification” status and the issuance of a U.S. DOT number. The prequalification process would include an examination to assure that the carrier is knowledgeable about federal motor carrier safety regulations. These steps were specifically required by Congress in the MotorCarrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999.
FMCSA’s compliance program would be altered to place additional emphasis on monitoring the compliance of carriers during their first two years in business.
Both of these proposals are in the development stage. Meanwhile the agency has produced “A Motor Carrier’s Guide to Improving Highway Safety” for its Education and Technical Assistance Program. This booklet provides basic compliance guidance to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and is intended specifically to help new carriers understand their safety compliance responsibilities. The Guide can be found on the Internet at www.mcs.dot.gov/factsfigs/eta. The studies can be found at www.ai.volpe.dot.gov.