Earlier in 2023, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed some unexpected and significant changes to its Safety Measurement System (SMS). The Agency stated that these changes aim to improve how it identifies the companies needing the most intervention and will help motor carriers better understand how to use this data to influence safer behaviors. Below, we break down the main components of this notice to help transportation companies better understand how the FMCSA changes will likely affect their fleets.   

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What is the FMCSA Safety Measurement System (SMS)? 

The SMS was first implemented by the FMCSA in 2010 as part of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program. This program is where motor carriers’ CSA scores are housed. Within the SMS, the FMCSA scores carriers in seven categories referred to as “BASICs”. The BASICs categories include: 

  • Unsafe Driving 
  • Crash Indicators 
  • Hours-of-Service (HOS) Compliance 
  • Vehicle Maintenance 
  • Controlled Substances/Alcohol 
  • Hazardous Materials (HM) Compliance 
  • Driver Fitness 

These categories are based on violations that fleets receive during compliance reviews and roadside inspections. The SMS then uses this data from roadside inspections, crash reports and investigations to identify and prioritize intervention for the motor carriers that pose the greatest safety risk.  

In 2017, the U.S. Congress required the FMCSA to conduct an independent study of SMS due to the heavy criticism it has received since its implementation. The agency that conducted this study, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), made a handful of recommendations to the FMCSA. In light of these recommendations, the FMCSA has proposed to make specific improvements to its system.  

9 Proposed Improvements of the FMCSA SMS Methodology  

1. Reorganized “BASICs”

To start, the FMCSA has proposed that they are doing away with BASICs categories and renaming them as “safety categories.” This new methodology would include:   

  • Unsafe Driving 

This would incorporate Controlled Substances/Alcohol violations, which would no longer be a standalone category. It would also include all Operating while Out-of-Service (OOS) violations, regardless of which safety category violation resulted in the OOS order. 

  • Vehicle Maintenance 

This would be split into two categories. One would focus on violations that could be reasonably observed by a driver or detected during a Walk-Around roadside inspection, to be labeled as “Driver Observed.” The other category includes all other vehicle maintenance violations that are identified by a mechanic during routine maintenance or detected as part of a full roadside inspection.  

However, there are no proposed changes to the other remaining categories: 

  • Crash Indicators 
  • HOS Compliance 
  • HM Compliance 
  • Driver Fitness 

The FMCSA website provides the complete list of violations in each reorganized safety category. 

The goal of reorganizing these categories is to better pinpoint unsafe driver behavior and sources of vehicle maintenance issues. Furthermore, moving the Controlled Substances/Alcohol violations to “Unsafe Driving,” would help the FMCSA focus its investigative resources on carriers with higher crash rates.  

2. Reorganized Roadside Violations

There are currently over 950 roadside violations. The FMCSA plans to reorganize these into 116 violation groups for prioritization purposes. With this new approach, violations with the same or similar safety issues would be grouped together. So, if a motor carrier receives multiple violations in a violation group during a single inspection, the new methodology would treat this as a single violation when determining if the carrier should be prioritized (they would still show up as multiple violations in the inspection report).  

FMCSA found that determining whether a safety issue is identified is more important than determining how many ways it was documented. By grouping violations, carriers with similar safety issues would be held to the same standards.  

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3. Simplified Violation Severity Weights

The FMCSA plans to adopt a more straightforward methodology, replacing the “1-10” weighting scale with a two-value scale of “1” or “2.” This would aim to better identify and prioritize carriers with higher crash rates and make it clear why a specific violation is considered more severe than others.  

These severity weights would be determined by the set of violations cited during an inspection within a violation group.  

4. Improved Intervention Thresholds

The agency also plans to update the Intervention Thresholds with a methodology that better reflects their unique relationships to crash rates. The goal here again is to better focus its enforcement program on the carriers with the highest crash rates.  

According to the FMCSA’s prioritization preview 

The Vehicle Maintenance safety categories would have the same thresholds as the SMS Vehicle Maintenance BASIC: 

  • 80% for general carriers 
  • 65% for passenger carriers 
  • 75% for HM carriers 

The Driver Fitness thresholds would increase from: 

  • 80% to 90% for general carriers 
  • 65% to 75% for passenger carriers 
  • 75% to 85% for HM carriers 

The HM Compliance thresholds would also increase from 80% to 90% for all carrier types.  

5. Proportionate Percentiles

FMCSA has also proposed the elimination of large percentile changes that occur for non-safety-related reasons. This would work to better indicate how a motor carrier’s performance is trending from month to month. It would also improve the Agency’s ability to compare carriers with those that are similar.  

The current SMS relies on cutoffs established by safety event groups. The proposed proportionate percentiles, on the other hand, would use the exact number of inspections and crashes to assign a percentile for a motor carrier.  

6. Greater Focus on Recent Violations

In an effort to focus on carriers with more recent safety issues and a higher crash risk, the FMCSA plans to only calculate percentiles for safety categories in which a carrier has received a violation within the last 12 months.  

This means that a carrier with violations in a safety category that are 12 months or older would not be assigned a percentile. It would also not be prioritized in that category based on roadside inspection data alone. This would affect the following safety categories: 

  • HOS) Compliance 
  • Vehicle Maintenance 
  • Vehicle Maintenance: Driver Observed 
  • HM Compliance 
  • Driver Fitness 

7. Updated Utilization Factor

The Utilization Factor was developed and first applied in 2009. It was established to ensure that measures in the Unsafe Driving and Crash Indicator safety categories account for carriers’ different levels of exposure to inspections and crashes.  

Currently, the Utilization Factor is applied to carriers that drive up to 200,000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per average Power Unit (PU), or a carrier’s VMT per average number of vehicles they have on the road. But after analyzing carrier-reported VMT data, FMCSA found that carriers are reporting higher VMT now than when this was first implemented.  

With this in mind, the new methodology would extend the Utilization Factor to carriers that drive up to 250,000 VMT per average PU. 

8. New Segmentation

By extending the segmentation of carriers by operation and vehicle type to additional safety categories, FMCSA believes that motor carriers would be treated more fairly. It would provide the ability to compare them to other carriers with similar operations and patterns. 

As of now, carriers are only segmented when calculating percentiles for the Unsafe Driving and Crash Indicator BASICs. 

9. Accounting for Not Preventable Crashes

Finally, the FMCSA also plans to continue incorporating results from the Crash Preventability Determination Program.  

This is a program announced in 2017 that focuses on determining whether certain crashes were preventable. It allowed trucking companies and drivers to remove crashes that they were not at fault for. The program initially included crashes that fell under eight categories, but in 2019, the FMCSA expanded the program to 15 categories and requested public comment regarding making the program permanent. 

Uncover How These Proposed FMCSA Changes Could Affect You

To dive deeper into the nine changes and discover helpful strategies from industry experts on how to best prepare, watch our free webinar, Expert Perspectives: Navigating FMCSA’s Proposed Methodology Changes!

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