UPDATED – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) to potentially redo the Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) process, which is part of its comprehensive Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) truck safety program.

The SFD process can result in a declaration that a motor carrier is unfit and thereby prohibited from operating commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce.

This ANPRM falls hard on the heels of the FMCSA notice proposing to change its Safety Measurement System (SMS). FMCSA proposes to significantly reorganize the so-called Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), dropping that terminology to underscore the changes. FMCSA will also consolidate many violation categories for simplicity and will abandon the concept known as Item Response Theory, as too complex and too slow to be useful.

The SMS is used by the agency to alert state and federal commercial vehicle enforcement officers as to which motor carriers may require an intervention – a visit, a call, or a full compliance review (CR). The SMS, as currently structured, does not result in a safety rating – “satisfactory, conditional, unsatisfactory” (unfit). Only the SFD process, through a compliance review, can apply those safety ratings.

Therein lies the problem FMCSA wishes to address. The current SFD process is resource-intensive and reaches only a small percentage of motor carriers. In fiscal year 2019, FMCSA and its state partners conducted 11,671 CRs out of a population of more than 567,000 active interstate motor carriers. Of those CRs in 2019, 306 led to a final safety rating of “unsatisfactory.”

Are there more “unsatisfactory” motor carriers still on the highway? Quite possibly, as the current SFD process is not only hindered by the limited availability of enforcement personnel to conduct CRs, it primarily relies on whatever safety data is collected at the time of a compliance review and does not fully incorporate the 24-month-long SMS accumulation of data nor integrate all the other data available.

In 2016, FMCSA issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to make SFDs based on the carrier’s on-road safety data; an investigation; or a combination of on-road safety data and investigation information. FMCSA at that time also proposed dropping the “satisfactory” and “conditional” safety ratings and issuing either an “unsatisfactory” rating or none at all.

However, Congress intervened in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which, among other things, directed FMCSA to consider utilizing IRT, Item Response Theory, in the agency’s safety determinations. FMCSA discontinued the 2016 effort and turned toward implementing IRT. Now that IRT has been discarded, FMCSA is returning to the concerns which led it to issuing the 2016 proposal.

But first, FMCSA is asking a lot of questions. That is the function of an ANPRM. It is used by an agency to test out a proposal or solicit ideas before it drafts its NPRM, the actual rulemaking proposal.

Here, among 12 questions, FMCSA asks whether there should be:

  • Three levels of safety ratings?
  • Whether unsafe driving practices – speeding and texting – should be more severely treated?
  • Do the safety management practices of cargo carriers and passenger carriers fundamentally differ?
  • Whether certain hazmat violations should merit consideration?
  • Should FMCSA should move forward to an NPRM on the SFD process at all?

The Compliance, Safety, Accountability program at FMCSA is undergoing change. You can help direct that change by filing comments on the Safety Fitness Determination process. Comments on this latest proposal were originally due by Oct. 30, 2023. However, on Oct. 23, 2023, FMCSA announced it was extending the deadline until Nov. 29, 2023.

This blog was updated to show the extension of the FMCSA comment period deadline.

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