The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would be able to declare a carrier unfit based on roadside vehicle inspections rather than going through an audit process
Federal highway safety regulators are proposing new rules that would make it easier to find potentially unsafe trucking companies and order them off the road.
Under a plan the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, released Friday, trucking companies could be declared unfit based on highway inspections of trucks rather than going through a longer and more complicated process that audits a company's operations.
The agency, a part of the Transportation Department, now has the authority to shut down a trucking company if auditors find unacceptable rates of violations such as exceeding permitted driving hours or failing to make required vehicle repairs.
Currently only carriers who underwent audits would receive a formal rating and be subject to suspension. But because investigations can take several days, officials were able to investigate 15,000 carriers a year of a total of 550,000 operating trucking companies. Highway violations, recorded at truck-stop inspections and along on the road, were used only to flag carriers that should be targeted for audits.
The new rule, which would enable the FMCSA to rate carriers based on highway violations alone, would enable the agency to assess 75,000 carriers a month. The FMCSA estimates fewer than 300 carriers would be declared unfit each year solely as a result of on-road safety violations.
"Using all available information to achieve more timely assessments will allow us to better identify unsafe companies and get them off the road," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
The American Trucking Associations, the largest trade group representing trucking carriers, said it recognizes the need for the FMCSA to increase its ability to rate trucking carriers, said Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy. But the organization disagrees that using roadside inspection data is the right way to do so, in part because it believes violations recorded from roadside inspections don't necessarily predict which carriers have a higher risk of crashes.
"There is general agreement that the current method for assigning safety ratings is in need of updating. It was developed and implemented in the '80s and is based in large part on records kept at a motor carrier's place of business, not actual safety performance," he said. "That said, we are concerned about using the FMCSA's safety management data."
The FMCSA said in a statement Friday that its analysis shows that carriers identified through on-road safety data "have crash rates of almost four times the national average."
"This update to our methodology will help the agency focus on carriers with a higher crash risk," said Scott Darling, FMCSA's acting administrator.
The agency said the rule will be open for public comments once it is published in the Federal Register, likely in the coming days.