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FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System: Works at identifying high-risk truck companies

Written by Steve Gursten Posted November 12th, 2015

SMS data identifies the truck companies most likely to cause preventable truck accidents

SMS Safety Measurement System website

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently released a congressionally mandated report that shows the agency’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) adequately allows the FMCSA to identify high-risk truck and bus companies.

Even as I write this, I know I will get a bunch of comments from angry safety directors and owners of trucking companies. And certainly the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program is very unpopular with the commercial transport industry. The industry has lobbied hard in congress to dismantle the Agency’s Safety Measurement System.  Here’s an interesting exchange I had last week with one company’s safety director (scroll to the bottom of the blog to read the comments from Safety Girl).  While her intentions seem to be in the right place (unlike many motor carrier safety directors I’ve deposed in accident lawsuits over the years), her dislike of CSA scores is typical of what I see from the industry.

Well, that’s too bad. It works. It is saving lives. And it is reducing the numbers of violations.

In short, it is a success.

And that’s great news when it comes to protecting the public.

In the debate I had with the safety director of a trucking company, I told this safety director (who was one of the good ones that cares about safety), that I believe many safety directors and people in the commercial transportation industry don’t fully appreciate how CSA scores are a strong predictor of future truck accidents.  I also touched on this during my presentation last week at the 360 Advocacy national trucking litigation conference in Vegas. I discussed this recent report, and I’d like to share my thoughts today.

FMCSA’s most recent report confirming that the data used in the Agency’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) —quantifying the safety performance of motor carriers — is clearly accurate enough to allow FMCSA to identify high-risk interstate trucking companies and bus transportation companies.

SMS data compose the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program and again, is not well liked in the trucking industry, as the trucking industry lobbyists have been pushing politicians in both the Senate and House to dismantle it. But the report’s findings show CSA scores are accurate and should be public.

Motor carriers identified as high-risk by SMS have crash rates of double the national average.

Think about that for a moment. These trucking companies have twice the number of accidents as the national average.  That is astounding. And just as important, motor carriers that have been involved in a high number of crashes are more likely than other carriers to be involved in future crashes, regardless of the role of the carrier in the crash. The report also finds reporting standards are accurate for identifying motor carriers for intervention.

The main takeaway is the results: Since the introduction of CSA system, violation rates have dropped by 14%.

How SMS benefits the public

SMS, which has been in operation since December 2010, provides the industry and the public with comprehensive, informative, and regularly updated safety performance data.

It has helped make America’s roadways safer by:

  • Raising awareness of the importance of commercial vehicle safety.
  • Causing motor carriers to devote more attention and resources to safety initiatives, largely due to the accountability that comes with having the carrier data publicly displayed.
  • Holding motor carriers accountable when conducting business.

More on what the report found

The report took into account carriers of all sizes in the agency’s continuing efforts to remove unsafe carriers and commercial drivers from the nation’s roadways. In examining commercial motor vehicle crash rates, FMCSA looked at carriers of various sizes. The analysis revealed:

  • No significant difference in actual crash rates between small carriers and those with 20 or more roadside inspections.
  • SMS effectively identifies the truck and bus companies involved in 90% of the more than 100,000 crashes that occur each year.
  • Those that are identified as high-risk carriers continue to have crash rates that are twice the national average.
  • Carriers with 11-20 inspections and patterns of non-compliance have the highest crash rates, presenting a clear and immediate intervention opportunity for the agency to proactively bring these carriers into compliance with important safety regulations, including: Hours-of-service limitations designed to prevent fatigued driving; vehicle maintenance, and; commercial driver’s license (CDL) requirements.

The future of SMS is transparency

According to the FMCSA, demand for access to the information provided by SMS is on the rise. To date, nearly 70 million users log onto the website each year, creating a community of transparency that:

  • Encourages a culture of commercial motor vehicle safety
  • Creates incentives for motor carriers to improve their safety performance.
  • Allows members of the public to make informed business decisions based on all available sources of FMCSA data, including FMCSA safety ratings, licensing and insurance information, and SMS data.

To learn more about the SMS report, click here.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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