April 29, 2014 | Industry Insights

GAO Report Recommends Changes to Safety Measurement System for Motor Carriers

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GAO Report Recommends Changes to Safety Measurement System for Motor CarriersFreight Forwarders, Brokers Should Go Beyond SMS Scores in Carrier Selection

The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program under the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has come under review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) over the last several months. In February, the GAO issued a report that indicated that the Safety Measurement System (SMS), a key part of the Carrier Safety Administration’s (CSA), faces challenges because “most regulations used to calculate SMS scores are not violated often enough to strongly associate them with crash risk for individual carriers.” Moreover, according to the GAO report, “most carriers lack sufficient safety performance data to ensure that FMCSA can reliably compare them with other carriers.”

This presents a real problem for freight forwarders and brokers who look at SMS scores in assessing a carrier’s safety record and selecting which carriers to use for their clients’ shipments.

The Safety Measurement System was set up to quantify the on-road safety performance of carriers and drivers to identify candidates for interventions, determine the specific safety problems that a carrier or driver exhibits, and to monitor whether safety problems are improving or getting worse. The SMS utilizes a motor carrier’s data from roadside inspections, including all safety-based violations, state-reported crashes, and the federal motor carrier census to measure performance for specific Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICS). These categories include unsafe driving, hours of service (HOS) compliance, driver fitness, controlled substances/alcohol violations, vehicle maintenance, hazardous materials compliance, and crash indicator. A motor carrier is measured against each of these categories and placed in a peer group with other carriers having similar number of inspections. Percentiles from 0 to 100 are then determined by comparing the BASIC measurements of the carrier to the measurements of other carriers in the peer group. A percentile 100 indicates the worst performance. “Warning letters” go out to fleets with scores above 65.

However, as the GAO stated, there isn’t enough data available to provide a clear comparison picture and the scoring doesn’t accurately reflect a motor carrier’s safety score. The American Trucking Association (ATA) agrees with the GAO’s assessment: “The GAO’s review of FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program was comprehensive, thoughtful and balanced,” said ATA President Bill Graves in a statement. “While ATA has long supported CSA’s objectives, we can’t help but agree with GAO’s findings that the scores produced by the program don’t present an accurate or precise assessment of the safety of many carriers.” In fact, the ATA has asked FMCSA to remove all carriers’ scores from public view in light of GAO’s review.

The GAO has recommended that the SMS methodology be revised “to better account for limitations in drawing comparisons of safety performance information across carriers; in doing so, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the FMCSA Administrator to conduct a formal analysis that specifically identifies: (1) limitations in the data used to calculate SMS scores including variability in the carrier population and the quality and quantity of data available for carrier safety performance assessments, and (2) limitations in the resulting SMS scores including their precision, confidence, and reliability for the purposes for which they are used.”

Checking A Carrier’s Safety Record

As a broker and freight forwarder, checking a carrier’s safety record through the various means available is critical in helping to ensure your client’s cargo arrives intact and without incident. Should an accident occur and a client’s cargo were to be damaged, you can find yourself the target of litigation. A claimant can allege that you’ve breached your responsibility by failing to properly investigate a carrier’s safety record and claims history. At Roanoke Trade, we recommend that shippers, forwarders, and brokers go beyond the SMS scores available from the CSA in determining which motor carriers to use for your customer’s cargo. Additional methods to evaluate a carrier’s safety recording include asking for OSHA logs or claims history, checking that safety standards are indeed in effect and that drivers are evaluated regularly, among other critical best practices. In addition, always be sure that the motor carrier has the proper insurance in place.

Sources: Transport Topics, CSA, Logistics Management

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