The new safety rating system established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for tractor-trailers, semis and other big rigs is finally being made public with the goal of providing safer roadways with an update to the current system that has been in place for more than 30 years. The proposed new rating system still leaves a lot to be desired, and may actually result in some motor carriers and freight brokers being able to hide behind several parts of the new rules.
The biggest (and best) change is that the FMCSA now will be able to rely on highway inspections to shut down a noncompliant trucking company rather than conducting a full-blown audit of the entire company, which can take weeks, months or longer. Previously, such highway inspections were used only to identify those companies that deserved audits.
We previously discussed the FMCSA’s plans to unveil the new rules last year, but delays pushed the release until this January. The revised rules, which are set to be published later this month, will be followed by a 60-day comment period.
Under the new “Safety Fitness Determination (SFD)”, the FMCSA says it will be able to investigate roughly 75,000 trucking companies per month compared to only 15,000 per year under the prior system. The new SFD, which was last updated in 1982, replaces the previous three-tier ranking system of “satisfactory-conditional-unsatisfactory” with the lone ranking of “unfit.” Those companies determined to be “unfit” will be required to improve their safety rating or be forced to shut down their operations.
One problem with this consolidation is that those motor carriers that would have otherwise been rated as “conditional” now will enjoy the benefit of not having any rating at all, which will prevent injured victims, their lawyers and the public at large from being able to find the red flags that clearly identify unsafe companies. Additionally, freight brokers may now be able to use unsafe motor carriers that previously were labeled as “conditional,” which potentially will make it more difficult to prove that they should have used carriers with better safety records. This may end up being a trade-off of the public’s safety for purposes of expediency.
In order to determine whether a trucking company is unfit, the new SFD will rely on a test that includes how well the company performs in its Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), which include unsafe driving, hours-of-service compliance, driver fitness, controlled substances/alcohol, vehicle maintenance, hazardous materials compliance and crash indicator. The FMCSA also will look at investigation results or a combination of on-road safety data and information gathered during any investigations.
While shutting down trucking companies more quickly when they ignore safety, and the notion of exponentially increasing the number of safety inspections are ideas we all should embrace, like any new government rule, the devil is in the details.
Some believe the new “unfit” ranking will result in too few companies being identified as potential safety risks since the FMCSA says it believes only 300 carriers per year will meet the criteria. Currently, there are many more trucking companies that are covered by the current three-tier system. There are also rumblings that the new FMCSA rule may include areas that conflict with the recently signed FAST Act.
Once the public comment period is concluded and any conflicts with the FAST Act are sorted out, we should have a better idea of how much better – or worse – the new FMCSA rules will protect our highways. Please check in for updates as we continue to monitor this critically important issue.