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GAO: More can be done to target high-risk truckers

Congressional watchdog agency told Senate lawmakers that FMCSA should enhance its Safety Measurement System for motor carriers.

   A congressional watchdog agency told the Senate Commerce Committee’s surface transportation subcommittee on Wednesday that the Transportation Department’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration can still do more to take “high risk” truckers off the nation’s highways.
   FMCSA stepped up its oversight of the nation’s more than 500,000 motor carriers when it implemented the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program in December 2010. CSA provides a methodical way for the government to track safety violations and crashes involving trucking companies and their drivers, and make that information available to the public.
   A significant component of CSA is the Safety Measurement System (SMS), which uses performance data from inspections and investigations to calculate safety scores for carriers and identify those with the highest risk for crashes. 
   The Government Accountability Office in 2014, however, found that the value of SMS scores was questionable due to the fact violations of safety-related rules were too infrequent to suitably determine a carrier’s crash risk. Further, GAO said most carriers lacked adequate data from inspections and violations to ensure their SMS scores could be reliably compared against each other.
   Susan A. Fleming, GAO’s director of physical infrastructure issues, told the Senate subcommittee that to address these challenges FMCSA should revise its SMS methodology to better account for limitations in available information when making comparisons on safety between carriers. FMCSA disagreed with the GAO’s recommendations, she noted.
   The GAO’s prepared testimony to the subcommittee stated it “continues to believe that a data-driven, risk-based approach holds promise, and efforts to improve FMCSA’s oversight could allow it to more effectively target its resources toward the highest risk carriers, and better meet its mission of reducing the overall crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving motor carriers.”
   In mid-January, FMCSA announced a number of enhancements to its SMS website to make safety information easier to access and understandable to motor carriers seeking to improve their safety performance and compliance. The enhancements incorporated feedback received since the SMS display changes were released in August 2014, the agency said.
    The SMS website updates include:

  • Improvements to the mobile version of the website.
  • Upgraded search and data download functions.
  • Addition of “Service Center” and “County” fields to search results and filter options.

   The limit on the number of carriers returned in the search results was removed. (Downloads for public users are limited to 2,500 results.) Download files also now indicate whether or not the inspection involved hazardous materials.
   In addition, the SMS website’s history section includes information such as a carrier’s status (active or inactive), its operation, and numbers of trucks, drivers, inspections, and crashes.

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Chris Gillis

Located in the Washington, D.C. area, Chris Gillis primarily reports on regulatory and legislative topics that impact cross-border trade. He joined American Shipper in 1994, shortly after graduating from Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, Md., with a degree in international business and economics.