Published On: 10.18.2011 Charlotte, NC

GOA Report On Motor Carrier Safety

On behalf of Charles G. Monnett III & Associates


In 2009, over 3,600 people in this country died as a result of crashes involving large commercial trucks and buses. This statistic exemplifies the new push by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to change the way it and its state partners track the safety of motor carriers. In the past the FMCSA has tracked the safety of motor carriers by conducting resource-intensive compliance reviews of a small percentage of carriers or companies that own these vehicles. Since 2004, FMCSA has begun the implementation of a new program, the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program, which is intended to identify and evaluate carriers and drivers posing high safety risks. To do this, the program focuses on three key CSA oversight activities to evaluate carriers: a new Safety Measurement System (SMS) using more roadside inspection and other data to identify at-risk carriers; a wider range of “interventions” to reach more at-risk carriers; and using SMS data to suspend unfit carriers. The goal of the FMCSA was to have the new CSA program fully implemented by 2010.

Last month, the United States Government Accountability Office (GOA) conducted an assessment of this new program and looked at the status of the CSA rollout and issues that could affect it and the CSA’s potential to improve safety. The GAO reviewed CSA plans and data, visited eight states, and interviewed FMCSA, state, and industry officials. Close to a year after the expected completion date, the GOA found that the FMCSA had partially implemented two, the new SMS and the new expanded set of interventions, of the three key oversight activities in all states. The third key oversight, using CSA safety ratings to get unsafe carriers off the road, had not yet been implemented because the FMCSA has not completed a rulemaking needed to do so.

Other findings by the GOA include:

1. SMS was implemented in 2010, as scheduled, to allow FMCSA to evaluate, score and rank the safety of carriers and identify at-risk carriers needing intervention. However, due to carriers requesting reviews of inspection violations shown in the system, states have had to expend more resources to respond to these requests

2. FMCSA had implemented most of the expanded array of enforcement interventions for at-risk carriers, however, it has delayed implementation of two additional interventions because the technology needed to implement them will not be completed until at least 2012.

3. FMCSA has not yet begun using SMS data to suspend unfit carriers, and is 2 years behind in issuing and completing the rulemaking needed to use these data. FMCSA expects to finalize the rulemaking in 2013.

The GOA concludes that the FMCSA has had mixed success managing the implementation of the CSA oversight activities. While the FMCSA was sucsessful in conducting outreach to carriers and responding to stakeholder concerns, it showed many difficulties in realigning its workforce and adapting to the new CSA program. The GOA also believes that it is too soon to definitively assess the effectiveness of the new program. The FMCSA has begun preformance measures for CSA, but has not yet collected enough data to use them. Whithout this information is difficult to show whether or not CSA improves safety. Also, the FMCSA has not provided data on the risks associated with either the delayed carrier intervention activities or operational and management issues that arose during implementation.

Until all relevant data can be collected and analyzed, the extent to which the CSA program will improve truck and bus safety nationwide wil remain unknown. Hopefully, with the assessment provided by the GOA and with additional time the FMCSA can make the CSA program a success which will make our highways a safer place everyone.