In a conference call with trucking industry media, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration representatives on Thursday emphasized the proposed changes in the Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) process are indeed still just “proposed,” and that the clock is ticking on the extended public comment period. And, by the way, the proposal isn’t illegal.
The briefing, led by Joe DeLorenzo, director of FMCSA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance, otherwise served as a platform for the agency again to explain and defend the Jan. 21 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that “lays out a new standard” for determining when a carrier is fit to operate.
At issue is the incorporation of roadside inspection data and computing power into a process that currently relies on “labor intensive” field investigations to decide a trucking company’s safety rating. The agency at present is only able to investigate 15,000 motor carriers annually and issue ratings to only about 6,000, DeLorenzo explained. Additionally, because of limited agency resources, most ratings are not kept up to date.
By comparison, the SFD rule will permit FMCSA to assess the safety fitness of approximately 75,000 companies a month.
Indeed, implementing a dynamic, data-driven ratings system has been an FMCSA priority since the launch of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program (CSA) in late 2010.
But many in the trucking industry have opposed the CSA scoring, specifically arguing that the way carriers are grouped together and evaluated based on operating characteristics is unfair to small trucking companies. And Congress in the FAST Act (the new highway bill) has called on FMCSA to review and reform the CSA program with those objections in mind.
While many in the trucking industry and some members of Congress argue that the SFD proposal violates the FAST Act, FMCSA maintains that the use of “absolute” data—the raw inspection results themselves, without any comparison to other carriers—is permitted.
“The way the proposal is set up, there is a fixed measure of fitness within the rule. It will be published and can only be changed by further rulemaking. Therefore, carriers always know what the target is,” DeLorenzo said. “So the whole issue of relative percentiles is not an issue. A carrier’s measure is calculated based on their own data. It’s fixed, it’s published in the rule. We think that will also make it a clear standard of safety fitness.”
The FAST Act provisions, he emphasized, refer specifically to the relative percentiles and BASICs alerts—concepts that are not used in the SFD proposal.
Acting Administrator Scott Darling made the same points earlier this year in his confirmation hearing, but some in Congress still aren’t buying it, and they’ve asked colleagues to block the proposal pending the completion of the review required by the highway bill.
DeLorenzo also pointed to the recently updated website as an important resource for anyone looking for more information on the rulemaking.
Details and instructions for submitting comments on the NPRM are on the regulations.gov website.