The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) currently only considers carrier safety mistakes when evaluating a fleet’s safety performance. This may change as the FMCSA proposes to study whether to also consider other factors including carrier efforts to improve safety.

Today, FMCSA looks at regulatory compliance results in calculating two important safety measurements. One is a carrier’s Compliance, Safety Accountability (CSA) score. The other is their Inspection Selection System (ISS) score, which affects whether a fleet’s trucks are pulled in for roadside inspection.

From one vantage, FMCSA focuses only on the negative – violations, citations, operational errors uncovered during investigations, and crashes. The resulting FMCSA metrics, CSA for example, are correspondingly expressed in the negative – how a carrier’s safety performance is worse than comparable fleets.

FMCSA appropriately notes that central to its job of preventing crashes is the identification of potentially bad actors. Measuring compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) is not a “feel-good” activity. That is why FMCSA compiles carrier and driver shortcomings.

On the other hand, over the years many safety-conscious motor carriers have asked whether FMCSA should also tally the extra safety steps taken by fleets over and above the minimum requirements of the FMCSRs. They argue that carriers who do more than merely comply, help improve highway safety. In the 2015 FAST Act, (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act), Congress agreed that FMCSA should study those extra safety steps — the motor carrier technologies, programs and policies that are, so-called “Beyond Compliance.”

The process of examining the safety impact of motor carrier efforts that are “Beyond Compliance” began in the Aug. 18, 2020 edition of Federal Register. There FMCSA seeks public comments on the design of its study and the estimated time required for information collection from participating motor carriers.

In federal bureaucratic terms, this first step is called an “Information Collection Request” or ICR for short. Before any federal agency can gather new data from the public, it must have an ICR approved by The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

For the study, FMCSA proposes an electronic survey of a panel of motor carrier experts. They will be recruited from carriers with safety performances among the 25% best in three categories: DOT-reportable crash rates, driver out-of-service rates and vehicle out-of-service rates at roadside inspections. FMCSA will also ask the National Association of Small Trucking Companies and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association to voluntarily survey their members for supplemental data.

The resulting panel will look at the safety technologies, programs and policies employed by the highest-performing carriers and gauge their relative effectiveness in terms of highway safety. Once the information collection is approved by OMB, the data collection itself will take 90 days, followed by 180 days for statistical analysis. The end result will be a publicly-available technical report by FMCSA, which will be the basis for the agency’s response to the 2015 Congressional mandate. Whether FMCSA will propose changes to the FMCSRs or to its own safety metrics calculations is yet to be determined.

FMCSA requests public comments on the study design and the estimated time burden on participating carriers by Sept 17, 2020. Written comments should be sent to OMB.