FMCSA officer says CSA will focus on vehicle maintenance

Feb. 1, 2012
NATIONAL Tank Truck Carriers has requested that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA)

NATIONAL Tank Truck Carriers has requested that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) “tweak” the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program, and that's exactly what's happening, according to William Quade, associate administrator for FMCSA's Office of Enforcement.

“The world never stands still, and neither do we,” he said during the NTTC's 2011 Cargo Tank Maintenance Seminar October 24-26 in Louisville, Kentucky. “I'm not about defending the status quo. I think we're doing pretty good. But I think we can do a whole lot better. I think CSA is good, and I think it can continue to get better. We have asked our Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee to look at the weighting of violations.

“We used some expert judgment on our side when we originally developed it. We're now asking our advisory committee to give us input. It's not a stagnant process. CSA is very much a dynamic process.”

He said violations are grouped into different areas called Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) within the Safety Measurement System (SMS).

Vehicle maintenance is “always important, not just because of CSA,” but he said it is included, and focuses on failures due to improper or inadequate maintenance (brakes, lights, and other mechanical defects, and failure to make required repairs).

“In developing our SMS system, we took every single violation, and the SMS score looks at every one,” he said. “We tried to determine what crash risk those violations had. That was by looking at drivers and companies that had two or more crashes. We looked at drivers in companies that had less than two. Which of the drivers do we see having these types of violations? It was a scientific correlation between violations that occur and crashes that occur.

“Now, there's some expert judgment that goes along with that, or some grouping. I often hear that a violation on a front tire is much more important than a violation on a rear tire or trailer tire, so (we) should be counting more for a steering-axle violation rather than trailer-tire combinations. That's absolutely true. But I think our data only allows us to get to a certain amount of weighting, so we group all tires together.

“We try to look at systematic violations. The truth of the matter is, if a maintenance program fails to find a tire problem — whether it was a trailer tire or steer-axle tire — it's a tire problem that the maintenance program has failed to identify. So we're grouping them all together at this point.”

He said that with the seven BASICs, FMCSA does not try to compare weightings from one to another. Eight points on a maintenance violation is not the same as eight points on a driver violation. The scales are relative within each BASIC.

“We have thresholds that determine when we are going to intervene,” he said. “On three of our BASICs, we have a very, very strong correlation between violations and future crashes: fatigued driving, unsafe driving, and crashes. So our threshold on those BASICs is 65 for most motor carriers. For hazardous-materials motor carriers, it is lower. If you're transporting passengers, it's lower still.

“We have the University of Michigan Transportation Institute study. We piloted this program in nine states for 30 months, and we know that we're identifying the right people. Every single one of our BASICs have a correlation. People who scored high in a BASIC have higher crashes than people who are not scoring high. Every single one of them. For the three BASICs, it's three times higher crash rates.”

He said FMCSA has received input from the industry on a number of issues and will propose changes to the SMS system. He said it will be done in a transparent fashion, with Federal Register notes.

“We will set up a system for motor carriers where you can log in and see what your score would be with these changes in it,” he said. “We'll do a preview period for everybody. We're aiming for March to implement changes. Some changes are to maintenance. We don't have a publically accessible cargo-securement BASIC because it is skewed toward certain carriers. It does accurately identify higher risk carriers, but it was skewed toward flatbed carriers and operations where it's easy to examine cargo. We are going to propose moving cargo-securement BASICs into the vehicle maintenance category. We think that allows us to continue to look at cargo-securement violations without having every flatbed carrier in the world jump to the top. That will impact hazmat violations. It will leave us with a BASIC that is pretty much hazardous materials. This will impact businesses that primarily transport hazmat.

“We're working on crash accountability. Unfortunately, there are a lot of crashes that occur in this country, and not all of them are the fault of the truck driver. Right now, our system can't determine accountability. We just get crash reports. We will implement a system for accountability where we will get a police accident report and we will have a crash analyst look at it using specified criteria and determine whether the carrier should be held accountable. If not, the crash will still be on that record but you'll get zero points. Once we have that system in place for two years' worth of data, we will eventually make it public.

“That will make maintenance and all kinds of compliance important. If there is an out-of-service defect that was present before the crash, then the carrier will be held accountable because the truck or driver never should have been there. So we will hold carriers more accountable for maintenance issues.”

Under CSA, FMCSA now has a wider array of interventions. Warning letters have been issued for the past nine months. FMCSA ran a pilot program for 30 months and learned that eight out of 10 times, a carrier that received a warning letter no longer scored high a year later.

“That (letter) is just us letting carriers know, ‘You are on our radar screen,’” he said. “Generally speaking, 90-98% of the industry wants to comply with regulations. Sometimes it gets away from you or there are misunderstandings. That kind of improvement allows us to spend time with the 2% to 10% of the industry that seems to not want to comply with regulations or is unwilling to comply, and we have to take action.

“If an intervention letter doesn't work, or if problems are more severe, we will move on to focus groups. We will come out and just look at maintenance systems. One of the changes we made in the program is how we look at things. Before, we only looked at, ‘What is wrong?’ We stopped at what. Under CSA, we're training our folks to look at why. There is a safety management cycle: Are there policies and procedures in place? Is there training for folks that need training? Is there monitoring of those policies and procedures? When there are violations, are there actions or consequences? Is there feedback about those policies and procedures back into the front-end process? We want folks not just to come out and say, ‘There's a maintenance problem,’ but also, ‘Where are the breakdowns? They're somewhere in that cycle.’

“We will eventually change the safety fitness determination, the way we rate motor carriers. We think that using on-road performance is a good way to rate motor carriers. Right now, there is a carrier out of Maryland that has a satisfactory safety rating from a review that was done by yours truly in 1994. I'm not sure that reflects how safe they are today. Under this system, any carrier that has enough data will get rated every month. We can go from rating 17,000 carriers every year to rating 190,000-200,000 carriers every month, and have a much better current indicator of the safety performance of motor carriers. We're still a few years away from that.”

David Ford, FMCSA's hazmat program manager for the Southern Service Center, gave a Department of Transportation (DOT) update.

He said cargo tank owners are responsible under 49 CFR Parts 180 to ensure that the tanks continue to meet qualifications.

“The idea of just taking it to a shop down the street and dropping it off, and it comes back and has stickers on it, and you don't know what happened … isn't sufficient,” he said. “Whether you're looking for a new registered inspector or a high school buddy down the street, you should know the answers: What kind of training program does the inspector have? Is he even aware of the requirement for him to be trained?

“Equipment is one of the problems we see often at cargo tank facilities. A well-established cargo tank owner hasn't done a pressure test in years. It's a continuing thing. It's not just going in once. You have to continually go back and ask questions. I challenge you to go back and look at your cargo tank inspection program and see if there are some holes you can fill. Do you know what an ‘R’ stamp is? Have you asked about their welder qualifications? Do they have that documentation?

“We've been into a lot of shops where the RI (registered inspector) has tested an FRP (fiberglass reinforced plastic) tank but has had no training on how to do so. There are facilities that have been in business for 20 to 30 years and don't have any training. A pretty well-known manufacturer hasn't done any training for employees that are building spec cargo tanks. You don't have to haul hazmat to be subject to training requirements.

“On bench testing and pressure-relief devices, do they have the right equipment? Do they know what the open and reset thresholds are? If they're bringing in outside contractors, those entities have to be registered and have a CT number.” ♦

About the Author

Rick Weber | Associate Editor

Rick Weber has been an associate editor for Trailer/Body Builders since February 2000. A national award-winning sportswriter, he covered the Miami Dolphins for the Fort Myers News-Press following service with publications in California and Australia. He is a graduate of Penn State University.


Joe Evans

NTTC Feb 2012

March 16, 2012