Safety

NSTA Advocacy in Action — Reforms Should Come Before Safety Fitness Rulemaking

Ronna Weber
Posted on August 10, 2016

Congress directed a comprehensive review and reform of the CSA Program in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was enacted in December 2015.
Congress directed a comprehensive review and reform of the CSA Program in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was enacted in December 2015.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on safety fitness determination earlier this year. In order to explain the proposal, a summary of the issue’s history follows. This column in next month’s issue of School Bus Fleet will delve more into NSTA’s specific concerns with this proposal.

Based on concerns expressed by the industry, Congress directed the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to monitor the utilization of FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Program in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2012. The CSA Program had recently been implemented to identify the riskiest carriers, replacing SafeStat.

In its study, “Modifying the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program Would Improve the Ability to Identify High Risk Carriers” (GAO-14-114, published Feb. 3, 2014), GAO found two major concerning issues:

• First, most regulations used to calculate Safety Measurement System (SMS) scores were not violated with enough frequency to create a strong enough association with crash risk for individual carriers.

• Second, most carriers lacked sufficient safety performance data to ensure that FMCSA could reliably compare them with other carriers.

Both of these findings are of concern on their own, but they are of significant concern when looking through the behavior lens created by FMCSA, as the agency has repeatedly stated that the best predictor of future behavior (those that will crash) is to review past behavior (those that have crashed). In addition, FMCSA built CSA upon the premise that performance ratings should be calculated by comparing similarly sized carriers.

Following its review, GAO concluded that due to the concerns raised, misclassifications could cause FMCSA to focus intervention efforts on carriers that were actually operating safely, while missing opportunities to intervene with carriers that were operating less safely.

Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general issued a report in March 2014, “Actions Are Needed to Strengthen FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program” (Office of Inspector General Audit Report No. MH-2-14-032, March 5, 2014). The report outlined concerns about the CSA data that would form the basis for safety fitness determinations in the proposed rule. These include the adequacy of data used to rate motor carriers and the extent to which data on regulatory violations by carriers predict future crash involvement or severity.

FMCSA is charging ahead to build a new safety fitness methodology on a flawed program. This is akin to adding another story to a house with a crumbling foundation, and it is simply irresponsible.

Simultaneous to the GAO study and report, FMCSA issued a number of regulatory actions addressing various parts of the CSA and its SMS — pushing forward despite the concerns being raised.

Noting FMCSA’s unwillingness to address the concerns and recommendations raised by GAO, Congress directed a comprehensive review and reform of the CSA Program in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which was enacted in December 2015.

Specifically, the FAST Act required a National Academy of Sciences study on the CSA Program and SMS. This is a 16-month study that began in February 2016. After the completion of the study, the Department of Transportation is directed to submit a report on the results of the study and a correction action plan to Congress.

Ronna Weber is executive director of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA).
Ronna Weber is executive director of the National School Transportation Association (NSTA).

Instead of pausing to address the multitude of concerns raised by the school transportation industry, the many other affected industries, the GAO, the Department of Transportation inspector general, and Congress, FMCSA is charging ahead to build a new safety fitness methodology on a flawed program. This is akin to adding another story to a house with a crumbling foundation, and it is simply irresponsible.

The proper reviews must be completed, all of the concerns and recommendations must be addressed, and the system must be fixed before any further layers should be added or compounding regulatory action should be taken. In addition, FMCSA’s apparent plan to push forward on the safety fitness determination and then make corrections, if needed, will cause burdensome midstream changes, creating confusion and forcing additional training and expense.

Be sure to read next month’s column for a detailed look at FMCSA’s proposal and NSTA’s concerns.   

Related Topics: FMCSA, NSTA

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