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White House clears safety fitness plan

The White House Office of Management and Budget has approved a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) that would change the way the agency determines the safety fitness of interstate motor carriers. FMCSA is expected to publish the safety fitness determination (SFD) NPRM early in 2016.

FMCSA will propose revised methodologies based on:

  • The carrier's on-road safety performance in relation to five of the Agency's seven Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs);

  • An investigation; or

  • A combination of on-road safety data and investigation information.

The agency's goal is to use its data and resources to identify unfit motor carriers more efficiently than today. Due to the time and expense associated with the on-site compliance review, only a small fraction of carriers -- about 7,000 -- receive a SFD each year. Since the current process is based solely on the results of an on-site comprehensive compliance review, the vast majority of carriers under FMCSA jurisdiction do not receive timely determinations of their safety fitness.

The new highway program legislation known as the FAST Act prohibits FMCSA from using Safety Measurement System (SMS) alerts or percentiles in an SFD rule until a study of SMS and the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program is completed, FMCSA takes corrective action based on the study and the DOT Inspector General certifies that FMCSA's response meets the standards set by Congress. That process could take more than two years if each deadline is pushed to the maximum.

Until FMCSA issues the NPRM, it's unclear whether the agency plans to use SMS alerts and percentiles in any way as part of the new SFD process. If so, presumably it could not issue a final rule until after all the requirements set by Congress or fulfilled. Alternatively, FMCSA might not propose to use alerts or percentiles. Agency officials have said for several years that unlike today's SMS methodology, the new SFD procedures would be based on a carrier's own performance data rather than its performance data relative to other carriers in its peer group.

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