Deciphering FMCSA’s Quest for Safer Roads: A New Methodology in the Works


Published June 22, 2023

In a bid to make our roads safer, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is embarking on an ambitious journey to reshape how it determines a motor carrier’s fitness to operate in or affect interstate commerce. This move, while not entirely surprising, comes as a proactive step in response to a yearning for enhanced safety in the transportation industry. The advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM), officially published on Tuesday, Aug. 29, in the Federal Register, outlines FMCSA’s intention to seek public input on various aspects of this transformative process.

Why the Need for Change?

The first question that arises is, why does FMCSA feel the urge to revise the regulations governing the safety rating process? The answer lies in the pursuit of safer roads. With an evolving transportation landscape and technological advancements, it’s essential to adapt to the changing times. The existing regulations may no longer suffice to ensure the safety of both drivers and the general public.

The Role of Science and Technical Information

FMCSA acknowledges the importance of science and technical information in this endeavor. To develop a robust methodology, the agency needs data-driven insights and innovative approaches. In this era of big data, harnessing the power of analytics and technology can provide invaluable guidance.

Assessing the Current Safety Rating Regulations

Understanding the impact of the current safety rating regulations is crucial. FMCSA is keen on gathering feedback from industry experts, stakeholders, and the public at large. What’s working well, and what needs improvement? These questions are at the forefront of the agency’s inquiry.
Any regulatory change comes with costs and benefits. FMCSA is interested in understanding the data and costs associated with various alternatives. This data-driven approach ensures that the proposed changes are both feasible and economically viable.

Specific Questions, Specific Answers

FMCSA isn’t leaving anything to chance. The ANPRM contains a comprehensive set of specific questions aimed at soliciting detailed feedback. These questions touch upon various aspects, from the retention of the current three-tiered rating system to the incorporation of safety technologies in carrier ratings.

A Second Attempt, A New Hope

This isn’t the first time FMCSA has attempted to revamp its safety rating methodology. Back in 2016, the agency proposed ratings based on on-road safety data and investigations. However, this rulemaking was withdrawn with the change in administration in 2017. Now, FMCSA is back with renewed vigor to tackle this critical issue.

The Current Evaluation Process

Currently, FMCSA assesses a carrier’s safety using a combination of existing motor carrier data and data collected during compliance reviews. These reviews can be conducted either on-site or remotely through record examinations. The evaluation involves factors such as a vehicle’s out-of-service rate, crash involvement, and compliance with regulations.

The Conditional and Unsatisfactory Ratings

In the current system, any factor assessed as one point is rated as “conditional,” while two or more points render a factor “unsatisfactory.” An overall “Unsatisfactory” rating is given if two or more individual factors are deemed as such. This evaluation method, however, has limitations, and FMCSA acknowledges that it reaches only a small percentage of carriers.
FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) is another component undergoing potential updates. This system identifies carriers for investigation and aims to improve safety by simplifying violation severity weights, altering intervention thresholds, and more.

The Future of Safety Ratings

The primary goal of FMCSA’s safety-rating-related ANPRM is to leverage data and resources more effectively. The aim is to identify unfit motor carriers accurately and remove them from the nation’s roadways. Successful rating methodologies should target metrics closely connected to safety outcomes and encourage the adoption of safety-improving practices.

12 Questions to Shape the Future

To chart a path forward, FMCSA poses 12 specific questions related to safety fitness determinations. These questions encompass crucial topics, such as retaining the current rating system, utilizing SMS data, incorporating driver behavior into ratings, and considering safety technologies.
In conclusion, the FMCSA’s quest to enhance safety on our roads is a commendable effort. By seeking public input and considering various perspectives, the agency aims to create a more robust and effective methodology for determining motor carrier safety fitness. With the transportation industry constantly evolving, adapting to new challenges and opportunities is essential. The FMCSA is taking a proactive stance to ensure that our highways remain safe for all.