Home / Blog / Uncertainty remains regarding new FMCSA rule

Uncertainty remains regarding new FMCSA rule

A new rule from FMCSA will likely be very effective.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

In the middle of January 2016, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration unveiled a new rule for determining the safety fitness of motor carriers.

According to the FMCSA, the rule is designed to better their ability to spot carriers who are non-compliant with regulations. But in the months since, the new rule hasn't been embraced by many organizations, trade groups or companies operating in the transportation industry.

The new system, which seeks to replace one that has been in place for over 20 years, will not identify any more potentially unfit carriers than the government's current system.

"The new system will not identify any more potentially unfit carriers than the government's current system."

What is proposed?

Currently, a three-tier federal system rating, first introduced in 1982, is used to help identify motor carriers that fail or are not compliant. The Safety Fitness Determination is broken into three ratings:

  • Satisfactory
  • Conditional
  • Unsatisfactory

Instead of three ratings, two new ones would be introduced: fit or unfit. If a motor carrier is deemed unfit, they have to improve their operations or face their operations shutting down.

The new SFD rule will replace the three-tiered system and instead, other forms of methodology would help to determine if a motor carrier is non-compliant. The proposed methodologies will help the FMCSA decide if carriers can operate on interstates:

  • The carrier's performance as it relates to the threshold established in the FMCSA's Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories
  • Results from an investigation
  • A combination of investigative information and on-road safety data

In the ruling's official FAQ, the FMCSA broke down ways how the three methodologies could determine if a carrier is unfit. For example, a carrier could fail two or more BASICs following inspections. The FMCSA may also make a decision if the carrier has piled up enough violations of the revised set of critical regulations highlighted by an investigation. Finally, carriers could fail a combination of two or more BASICs based on data and investigative results.

If the new system were to be finalized as is, the FMCSA has estimated that approximately less than 300 carriers would be deemed by the agency as unfit.

"Ensuring that motor carriers are operating safely on our nation's roadways is one of our highest priorities," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release. "Using all available information  to achieve more timely assessments will allow us to better identify unsafe companies and get them off the road."

Ruling met with criticism

From the moment it was introduced, the rule has been met with opposition. According to Overdrive, industry groups and parts of Congress believe the rule finds a way around a Congressional mandate requiring reforms to the FMCSA's Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. This requirement was part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act of 2015.

"From the moment it was introduced, the rule has been met with opposition."

In March 2016, 35 transportation organizations, including the National Private Truck Council and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, wrote to Congress asking legislators to put a halt on the notice of proposed rulemaking.

The coalition of organizations believes the new rule will use flawed data and information from the CSA's Safety Measurement System rankings, Overdrive explained.

Thirty-six lawmakers agreed with the transportation organizations, writing how the new proposed rules are not faithful because the new ranking system utilizes data Congress has also directed the FMCSA to fix.

Likewise, industry groups voiced their opinions during the initial public commenting period, which ended in late June. OOIDA said that as long as the new rating system incorporates the current broken data structure, the new methodologies will not work.

The American Trucking Associations also voiced its displeasure with the rule, Overdrive reported in June. However, if the data system was improved, the ATA may get behind an overhaul of the SFD. Additionally, other major carriers have stated that a "one size fits all" approach shouldn't be used. Instead, the size of the fleet should be a factor when deciding the failure threshold.

Now that the public commenting period has ended, the FMCSA will review all submissions and have further discussions by potentially revising the rule. The process will take a while, but carriers should still keep this potential rule in mind for the future.

But if it stands, it will likely not be as effective than the system currently in place, and this is reflected by some of the criticism industry groups and Congressional leaders have voiced.