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Government rollout of truck crash preventability program could be quick

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A formal rulemaking likely will not be required to make permanent a federal demonstration project that seeks to assign proper blame for trucking accidents.

The 24-month “Crash Preventability Demonstration Program” that was launched by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) in August 2017 will end on July 30. Based on “positive feedback from industry,” U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced last week her intention to make the program permanent.

If a permanent program were to be launched following the end of the demonstration project, “it would not have to go through rulemaking, as it feeds data into [FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability] program, which itself was stood up as a tool within the agency to better identify high-risk carriers,” an FMCSA source told FreightWaves. The source could not immediately provide detail on final approvals needed to make the program permanent or on a potential start date.

The FMCSA’s safety programs use data from 3.5 million roadside inspections and 150,000 crashes each year to prioritize its enforcement resources on those motor carriers that pose the greatest safety risks. The agency points to studies showing that “crash involvement is a strong indicator of future crash risk.”

But the American Trucking Associations (ATA) and other groups have contended that company safety records can be evaluated unfairly for crashes that they could not have prevented. Without an indication of preventability, the listing of crashes on the FMCSA’s Safety Management System public website “can give an inaccurate impression about the risk posed by a company,” they argued to the FMCSA.

The types of preventable accidents suggested by the ATA to be taken into account include those where a truck was rear-ended, struck by a motorist traveling in the opposite direction, or struck by a motorist under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Through the end of 2018 there were close to 9,000 data review requests (RDRs) submitted by commercial carriers and drivers over the last two years seeking to confirm that an accident was not preventable, according to the FMCSA. As of February 22, the agency had determined that over 4,700 of those were not preventable, with FedEx Freight (NYSE: FDX), J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT), Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR), Knight-Swift (NYSE: KNX), and Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN), among the companies with the largest number of successful RDRs.

In terms of location, the vast majority of accidents submitted to the demonstration program that were eventually determined to be not preventable occurred in Texas, with 500. Among the next highest were Indiana and California, with 287 and 277, respectively.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.