TransComply finds fewer inspections may represent weaker CSA data

TransComply finds fewer inspections may represent weaker CSA data

According to a TransComply analysis, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Feb. 29 announcement that commercial motor vehicle (CMV) roadside and traffic enforcement (TE) interventions in fiscal 2012 saved an estimated 472 lives “ignores that under FMCSA’s own analysis those interventions could have saved 169 more lives that year had the number of TE inspections not dropped by more than 43% from their peak in fiscal 2006.”

TransComply, a firm that helps small motor carriers with compliance and safety programs and business best practices, said although it wasn’t not covered in FMCSA’s latest report, applying the agency’s Roadside Intervention Effectiveness Model (RIEM) to roadside and TE interventions in fiscal 2015 indicates that 461 lives were saved due to inspections. But another 224 lives could have been saved had TE inspections remained at fiscal 2006 levels, according to the firm. FMCSA estimates that the new electronic logging device rule will save 26 lives a year and that the hours-of-service rule, as issued, saves 19 lives.

TE inspections are those conducted over the road following moving violations such as speeding or recklessness while the more frequent roadside inspections (RIs) are typically conducted at fixed locations, such as weigh stations. According to the RIEM, TE inspections are about four times as effective as RIs in reducing crashes, injuries and deaths.

“If FMCSA’s model is accurate, the trend is alarming, and the agency has only limited tools to do anything about it,” said Avery Vise, president of TransComply. “On the other hand, it is possible that traffic enforcement activities actually have improved motor carrier safety even while reported TE inspections have plummeted. Unfortunately, we don’t know because FMCSA currently captures no usable data on traffic enforcement that occurs without a reported inspection.”

TE inspections peaked at just over 900,000 in fiscal 2006 and have plummeted 60% to just under 360,000 in fiscal 2015, according to FMCSA data. RIs generally have continued to grow, but they, too, have dipped slightly since fiscal 2012.

In addition to lower fatalities, FMCSA analysis using the RIEM indicates that inspection and enforcement prevented 8,833 injuries and 14,424 crashes involving large commercial trucks and buses in fiscal 2012. However, according to TransComply, RIEM methodology indicates that had TE inspections remained at fiscal 2006 levels an additional 2,825 injuries and 3,718 crashes would have been prevented.

TransComply, noting that most TE inspections and RIs are conducted by state and local agencies, said TE inspections have fallen probably due to a combination of factors, including tighter state budgets. Another possible contributor is slower highway speeds due to carrier concerns over safety, fuel economy and Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) program scores.

“If truckers are drawing fewer inspections because they are committing fewer moving violations, then that would be a positive safety development, but it also would be difficult to establish without more data,” Vise said. “Also, CSA presumably would not have played a role in slower speeds until at least fiscal 2010 by which time TE inspections had already dropped by more than 20%.”

The firm added that a significant factor in lower TE inspections over the past decade is legislation that Congress enacted in 2005 allowing states to use funds under the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance program, or MCSAP, for motor carrier traffic enforcement activities that do not result in an inspection. The rationale, TransComply said, was that because so few law enforcement officials are qualified to conduct CMV inspections, law enforcement agencies should be incentivized to devote more resources to policing truckers’ moving violations.

“If states can obtain FMCSA reimbursement for traffic stops without having to devote the time and resources to conducting CMV inspections, you would expect the number of inspections to drop, and that’s exactly what happened,” Vise said.

But the drop in TE inspections may not necessarily be a bad thing from a safety standpoint, Vise told Fleet Owner.

“The bigger problem is that FMCSA doesn't track moving violations that don't result in a reported inspection, so we don't know whether the 2005 change in MCSAP standards has resulted in more or fewer interactions with commercial vehicles,” Vise explained. “Nor do we know how effective a moving violation citation alone is relative to a citation accompanied by an inspection. So FMCSA should try to gather that data in a central database and analyze it. The agency would also need to revise its Roadside Intervention Effectiveness Model to account for this new data source.”

What Vise said is a concern is that all of the data populating the Unsafe Driving Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) comes from TE inspections.

“Once FMCSA develops a database of moving violations without inspections it probably needs to revisit its methodology to incorporate that information,” he said. “The drop in inspections also raises questions about FMCSA's carrier safety fitness determination proposal. The agency based its analysis on 2011 data, but TE inspections have dropped about 38% since then. FMCSA needs to consider that development as it moves forward with the proposed rule.”

According to Vise, FMCSA's ability to influence the number of TE inspections appears limited under current law and MCSAP.

“This issue has been recognized for several years, and Congress could have addressed it in the FAST Act's provisions related to MCSAP. It didn't,” he said. “To its credit, FMCSA is doing what it can to encourage states to conduct TE inspections. For example, the agency has created a Large Truck and Bus Traffic Enforcement Training program that can be delivered in different ways.”

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