The recent announcement by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regarding proposed changes to update its safety rating method seems to me to be mostly a good thing.
Victoria Kresge, NationaLease’s vice president of dedicated services and logistics, cautions us, however, to keep in mind that this is just a proposal, that a comment period will follow to allow interested parties to give their input, and that the final report may reflect some of these suggestions.
The goal of the proposed changes is to increase the number of carriers who have Safety Fitness ratings.
Under the current set up, FMCSA has only been able to complete onsite inspections at about 12,000 carrier locations each year mostly due to it a lack of personnel to carry out the inspections. The result is that many carriers go unrated in the Safety Fitness category.
One of the flaws of the current system was brought to light during negotiations on the FAST Act (Highway Bill). Carriers that were unrated in the Fitness Service category were almost left out of a 3PL provision that could have cost them millions of dollars in business as well as removing available capacity to 3PLs. Fortunately that was resolved, but it brought up this problem about the way fleets are rated for safe operation.
The new proposal is a way to ensure all carriers have a safety fitness rating. It calls for the rating to be based on one of three types of information:
- The carrier’s performance in relation to five of the agency’s BASICs (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories
- An investigation
- A combination of on-road safety data and investigation information
I think this new criteria will ensure that carriers maintain their fleets in excellent working order. “This is not only good for safety; it has the added benefit of helping with driver retention — which we all know is a huge problem. Happy drivers are those who are in fairly new trucks that are neat, clean and up-to-date on repairs,” Kresge says
Trucking companies and drivers know there are DOT inspections out there. That’s no surprise. What also is no surprise is that, like it or not, FMCSA is going to be present in trucking operations. So as a carrier or owner-operator, you’d be wise to take time now and prepare. “For those carriers and owner-operators who have been able to get away with cutting corners, the party’s over,” Kresge believes. If this proposal becomes a ruling, it is going to get a lot harder for them to operate without investing time and money in their equipment.
There is one part of the proposed change that I am not big fan of and that is changing the current safety rating of satisfactory, conditional and unsatisfactory to one rating of unfit. That strikes me as a bit extreme.
Hopefully, during the comment period, suggestions will be made to tweak the unfit determination to be fairer to carriers and owner-operators. Giving the carrier or owner-operator a 90-day grace period to fix the problems seems like a reasonably fair compromise.