You see them all the time on your long-distance road trips—truck weigh stations and inspection points. But how do these random checks keep unsafe trucks and truckers off the road? The fact is, these inspections are only a small part of an ongoing system of tracking violations and holding motor carries accountable for violations and crashes. Whether an individual driver violates the law or there's evidence of more widespread violations throughout a business, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) system is in place to track and intervene when a trucking company does not adhere to safety regulations.
Areas Being Measured: The BASICs
The CSA established seven categories for safety evaluation, known as the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). Carriers are measured in each of the following categories by the Safety Measurement System:
- Unsafe driving. Operation of commercial motor vehicles (CMV) by drivers in a dangerous or careless manner. Example violations include speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, and inattention.
- Hours-of-Service (HOS) compliance. Operation of CMVs by drivers who are ill, fatigued, or in non-compliance with the HOS regulations.
- Driver fitness. Operation of CMVs by drivers who are unfit due to lack of training, experience, or medical qualifications. Example violations include failure to have a valid and appropriate commercial driver’s license and being medically unqualified.
- Controlled substances/alcohol. Operation of CMVs by drivers who are impaired due to alcohol, illegal drugs, and misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications.
- Vehicle maintenance. Failure to properly maintain a CMV and/or properly prevent shifting loads. Example violations include brakes, lights, and other mechanical defects, failure to make required repairs, and improper load securement.
- Hazardous materials compliance. Unsafe handling of hazardous materials.
- Crash indicator. Histories or patterns of high crash involvement, including frequency and severity, based on information from state-reported crashes.
How the Safety Measurement System Works
While the CSA outlines evaluation areas for carriers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also uses its Safety Measurement System (SMS) to track all of the information gathered in one place to identify carriers with recurrent or ongoing problems. The SMS tracks data on violations from roadside inspections, state-reported crashes, and the Federal motor carrier census to quantify performance. If it's determined that the safety record of a particular carrier is questionable, that carrier will be recommended for interventions.
The SMS considers the following:
- The number of safety violations and inspections
- The severity of safety violations or crashes
- When the safety violations occurred, with recent events weighted more heavily
- The number of trucks/buses a carrier operates and the number of vehicle miles traveled
- Acute and Critical Violations found during investigations
After a measurement is complete, the carrier is then placed in a group with other carriers with similar numbers of inspections. Percentiles from 0-to-100 are then determined by comparing the BASIC measurements of the carrier to the measurements of other carriers in the peer group. A percentile of 100 indicates the worst performance. The SMS then decides the best type of intervention based on their safety problems.
Based on data gathered by the SMS, the CSA takes appropriate action against problematic carriers to see to it that they improve their safety records or face severe consequences.
Possible interventions include the following, in order of action:
- Warning letter
- Targeted roadside inspection
- Offsite investigation
- Onsite focused investigation
- Onsite comprehensive investigation
- Implementation of a Cooperative Safety Plan
- Notice of Violation
- Notice of Claim
- Operation Out-of-Service Order
The final step, the Out-of-Service Order, shuts down a motor carrier’s operation completely.
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