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Nearly five years after it was mandated by Congress to go into effect, federal trucking regulators have yet to establish a “beyond compliance” program to offer motor carriers some sort of extra credit or reward for early adoption of safety technologies or fatigue management programs.
The concept was mandated in the FAST Act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 4, 2015. It required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to come up with the program 18 months after passage of the law.
The provision specifically called on the agency to credit or improve the Safety Measurement System percentiles for motor carriers who voluntarily install advanced safety equipment; use enhanced driver fitness measures; or adopt fleet safety management tools, technologies and programs. The bill also suggested the agency could add a separate driver fitness Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement category that FMCSA uses to determine how a motor carrier ranks relative to other carriers with a similar number of safety events such as inspections, violations or crashes.
It now seems obvious that the requirement hasn’t been easy to implement. In a statement provided to Transport Topics, FMCSA would only say the agency “continues to work through complex FAST Act provisions to develop the Beyond Compliance Program and evaluate how such a program would work in practice.”
“I can’t specifically say why there is a delay — other than it’s a pretty complex topic and big lift for the agency,” said Dan Horvath, vice present of safety policy for American Trucking Associations. “I can tell you that Beyond Compliance had a heavy Compliance, Safety, Accountability component, so would be difficult to move forward with it knowing the flaws with CSA.”
“With the congressionally mandated studies that revealed flaws in the CSA/SMS methodology, it would be difficult to base a program off of a scoring model that does not accurately predict crash risks,” Horvath added.
Horvath’s comments were underscored in a 2017 study critical of FMCSA’s CSA programs by an elite academic panel that suggested ways to improve how the agency evaluates the safety of motor carriers.
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The panel, which suggested FMCSA use a new complex method known as the Item Response Theory, said the agency could need up to two years to study and implement the IRT method. More than four years later, FMCSA has repeatedly said the IRT model has taken more time to evaluate how, and even if, it could be merged with CSA.
Dan Murray, senior vice president at the American Transportation Research Institute, said the trucking industry has been emphatic about wanting front-end benefits out of Beyond Compliance. “I can take an improved CSA score to my insurer and potentially get credit in my premiums,” he said. “But there is still substantial discussion and debate over how Beyond Compliance would credit carriers and drivers.”
Murray believes it could be years before the program is in place. “They’re still conceptualizing how it would work.”
Faced with the challenge of a Beyond Compliance program, FMCSA sought the help of a federal contractor, which took three years to conduct a study, do research, survey a small group of motor carriers and create a base of best practices.
“There were a couple of speed bumps as there usually are when working these projects,” said Gene Bergoffen, owner of MaineWay Services, the Maine-based contractor. “It was about a three-year effort, but there were pauses.”
The MaineWay project, estimated to cost $300,000-$350,000, was delayed while awaiting approval of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Bergoffen told TT. “The project was submitted to FMCSA in December.”
Bergoffen said he cannot discuss the contractor’s findings and recommendations because the report hasn’t yet been published by the agency.
However, a presentation of MaineWay’s research and surveys at a Transportation Research Board session in January indicated the next steps for FMCSA include reviews of:
- The results of the formal survey of carriers to assess best practices.
- A potential framework developed for a Beyond Compliance program.
- Possible scenarios for CSA and SMS credits and other recognition and incentives programs.
- Suggested program management, monitoring and evaluation approach.
“We had very good cooperation and I think FMCSA was pleased with our presentation in December,” Bergoffen said. “We looked at alternative ways of providing recognition, credit and so on. The challenge is how do you manage this program — and we looked at those options as well. I think it’s pretty clear what practices are best now. The only question is how should recognition and credit be given to those best practices.”
That answer to recognition and credit questions is critical.
In written comments in response to a 2020 information collection request by FMCSA, concerns were raised as to how Beyond Compliance credit should be given to carriers without only rewarding safety technology adoption.
“No technological ‘shiny object’ is a silver bullet,” wrote the National Association of Small Trucking Companies. “Indeed, technology can become a substitute for true safety achievement and regulatory compliance. NASTC members can readily attest that the amount of money a carrier spends on technology does not equal how safe and compliant the carrier is.”