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SMS measures return to FMCSA website

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has added back to its SMS website indicators of motor carriers' performance under the Safety Measurement System (SMS), although the agency isn't making obvious what those measures mean. The change, which had been expected for a couple of weeks, took effect March 7.

Congress last year ordered FMCSA to remove SMS Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) alerts and relative percentiles from its public websites, but the agency was allowed to continue publishing "absolute measures." FMCSA pulled down the alerts and percentiles on Dec. 4, 2015 – the date the FAST Act became law. The BASICs are major element of FMCSA's Compliance, Safety, Accountability program.

Since removing the BASICs alerts and percentiles FMCSA has taken a couple of steps toward providing more than just raw data on inspections and crashes. First, the agency provided detailed data on inspections, violations and crashes that would allow someone knowledgeable about databases to essentially recreate SMS scores.

The latest change puts back something that was on the site before Dec. 4 – a ratio of total time and severity weighted violations to total time weighted inspections in each BASIC. The result is a number that by itself doesn't really mean much. But FMCSA is providing all the scores in a file for download and is still indicating what safety event group each carrier falls into. Using spreadsheet formulas it will be fairly easy for interested parties to convert these measures into relative scores.

The restored scores also appear to be a move toward the approach FMCSA adopted in January in its proposed carrier fitness determination rule, which would rate some carriers directly based on “failure standards” that would vary by safety event group. FMCSA characterizes these standards as absolute measures although they are set by calculating the 96th percentile for the Unsafe Driving and Hours of Service Compliance BASICs and the 99th percentile for the Driver Fitness and Vehicle Maintenance BASICs. The comment deadline on that proposal has been extended to May 23, 2016.

In a related development, FMCSA on March 7 announced that it had commissioned the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine's Transportation Research Board and Committee on National Statistics to study the accuracy of the BASICs safety measures in identifying high-risk carriers and in predicting or correlating with future crash risk or other safety indicators. The study was mandated by Section 5221 of the FAST Act. For more on the study, click here.

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