Proper Air Brake Inspections Are Critical To Safe Operation

Did you know that almost 1,600 commercial motor vehicles were put out of service during Brake Safety Day this past April? Out of the over 11,000 inspections completed in North America, over 13 percent of inspected vehicles got an out-of-service violation because of substandard brake maintenance. It is critical that trucking companies pay close attention to the condition of their air brakes, and not just because they are worried about a violation. Brakes play a critical role in the overall safe operation of commercial motor vehicles.

Chamber Size

That’s why we wanted to devote this week’s blog post to ensuring your air brakes are in proper order. Are you aware of all the steps required to ensure the functionality of your braking system?

First, make sure that brake adjustments and checks are completed before the brakes are in use. When the brakes are heated up, stroke measurements can be far longer. Why? Because the brake drum itself expands when in use. Cold brake check measurements are key to getting a proper reading.

The brake chamber size must be determined while in this state. First, technicians will want to locate the size markings on both the clamp and chamber body. Are those markings easily readable? If not, special calipers can help technicians ascertain the proper chamber measurement size.

Ranges for brake chambers generally fall between 6 and 36. Steer axle brakes will be smaller due to the nature of the steer axle. Expect those measurements to fall somewhere between 12 and 20. Heavier axles, by their nature, rely on larger chamber sizes.

Pushrod Stroke

What method will you use to determine a brake’s applied pushrod stroke? There are a couple to choose from. First, you can mark the pushrod with a reference point. This will allow you to operate the brake then go back and see where the measure met up with actual performance.

Second, you can measure the released position of the pushrod. Make sure to take account of the distance from a single point on the pushrod body to a fixed point near the brake chamber. If that measurement is off at all, you may of a problem.

Wherever your measurement comes out at, you will want to lower the vehicle’s air pressure through either running the engine or pumping the brake pedal. It will be important to ensure you have reached between 90 and 100 psi on both the primary and secondary tanks. With the correct air pressure indicated, make sure you apply and hold pressure to the brake pedal to get a true reading.

Fortunately, many brake OEMs already make their products with marked pushrods. This allows technicians to quickly determine whether a brake is out of adjustment or not without having to go through the manual checkmark process. Brakes that are within alignment will show the marking as being inside the body of the brake chamber. Conversely, if any part of the indicator is visible, the brakes either need to be flushed or are out of alignment.

Checking Adjustments

To get a good idea of whether brakes are adjusted properly or not without a fully-fledged inspection is another option. Ensure the vehicle is properly secured, then grab a prybar and pull back the push bar from the brake chamber. What is the push bar’s range of motion? If you are nearly an inch within stroke-free distance, your brake may be out of adjustment.

Without brakes, there is no safe operation of any vehicle, commercial or otherwise. Always ensure your technicians are up-to-date on how to check a rig’s air brakes and you can rest assured that your fleet is operating safely, day-in and day-out!

The Keys To Recovering From A Blowout

If there is one thing that truck drivers know, it is that a blowout can happen anytime, anywhere. While a truck driver can pay extra attention to ensuring tires are properly maintained, there is no way to completely eliminate the dangers of a blowout. Even worse, if a blowout occurs on a steer tire, both the truck driver and others on the road could be put in extreme danger.

It is important that when a blowout occurs, an untrained truck driver does not react with a “natural instinct” if they feel a pull from a blown out steer tire. Usually, that natural instinct is to pull the wheel back in the opposite direction and slam on the brakes. The problem is, these two actions are exactly the wrong actions to take.

What Should a Truck Driver Do?

With so many new truck drivers on the roadways today, paying careful attention to how to recover from a potential safety disaster should be at the front of everyone’s mind. When going through truck driver training, recovery is critical.

Should a blowout occur on a steer tire, the correct approach is to apply full acceleration and adjust the steering wheel to maintain a course going straight ahead as much as possible. The point of applying full power to the vehicle is that it will help the vehicle maintain a straight-forward course.

For some, this may seem counter intuitive, but it does make sense when you break it down. When a steer tire blows out, both the working tire and the blown out tire will pull in the direction of the blowout. At that point, your only hope is to rely on the four dive tires, which are always trying to push the vehicle in a straight line. By increasing forward thrust from the drive wheels, it helps to overcome the sideways pull of the blown tire. This will help overcome the sideways pull from the blowout.

Overcoming a Psychological Reaction

Of course, it is easy for us to write this out, but when a truck driver is in the seat, traveling down the highway at 70 mph, and they suddenly hear loud bang and immediate change in direction, how does one overcome the “natural instinct?”

Take a comparison between truck drivers and airplane pilots as one example. When a pilot needs to make a course correction, they have plenty of time to evaluate what kind of impact the move they make will have on the trajectory of the plane. A truck driver, on the other hand, literally may only have a second – or a fraction of a second – to make a critical life or death decision.

There are different reasons for tire blowouts that do not relate to tire maintenance. Whether it be from road debris or otherwise, truck drivers must put themselves in the mindset that if they suffer a steer tire blowout, it is critical they:

  1. Apply full power to the throttle;
  2. Make slight steering drift corrections, and;
  3. Decelerate slowly and pull over once the vehicle has stabilized.

The key thing to note is that this is not a maneuver truck drivers get to practice. It is something that they simply must deal with when it occurs. It is important not to get rattled or let emotions or fear overcome the right course of action.

For a little inspiration on doing the right thing, there are more than a few YouTube videos out there that amply demonstrate what happens when a truck driver incorrectly responds to a steer tire blowout. Don’t let that be you. Stay calm and stay safe and you will get through it.

Is Your Fleet Drowning In Safety Technology?

There is one constant in the trucking industry today: Advanced safety technologies are dramatically reducing serious crashes, injuries, and fatalities on our nation’s roads and highways. Yet, far too many trucking companies have their eyes set firmly on their insurance costs. Is there a disconnect between road safety and insurance costs? There is, but the reason isn’t as obvious as it may at first seem.

The fact is, fleets have access to a wealth of safety technologies and data related to efficient truck driving, yet they are not utilizing these technologies to their fullest advantage. Motor carriers need to figure out how to implement the technologies and utilize the data provided by their use to increase overall safety measures.

Drowning in Safety

There is a phenomenon in trucking called “tech fatigue.” With the ELD mandate and advanced fleet management and safety systems coming at fleet managers from all angles, it can become easy to get overwhelmed and find yourself “drowning in safety.” While many motor carriers have plans in place to mitigate these problems, there are often disconnects between management and the truck drivers themselves.

Are truck drivers aware of specific alerts, beeps, and communications delivered by advanced safety systems? Furthermore, do fleet managers know when to act on said alerts or communications? There may be a solid plan in place to deal with such things, but without firm communication and a plan in place to manage these systems and train truck drivers and others within the organization on how to use them, the message can get lost in the noise.

It is critical that fleet managers ensure their truck drivers are not only trained on newly installed safety systems, but have buy-in that their truck drivers know how to and, even more, want to use them. The equipment being installed should be properly vetted and key decision-makers within the organization should understand how they will have an impact on the organization as a whole.

There are also problems with fleet managers focusing only on poor truck drivers. Even if an operator has a safe million-mile record, mistakes happen. Professional, experienced truck drivers should not be ignored for the sake of focusing on newer, less-experienced truck drivers with a minimal driving record.

When an adverse event occurs, do you have a corrective action plan in place to address the problem? How are you using the available data to influence the decision you make in regards to your truck drivers? Only through proper training and follow through can these questions be answered.

Technology is not a Curse

The problem is that as motor carriers add more and more technologies to their vehicles, it can become difficult to not only keep everyone on board, but figure out the most optimal ways to utilize these technologies. Advanced safety and fleet management systems do not just suddenly make themselves known to operators.

It is important to never assume that those operating your commercial motor vehicles will know exactly how a piece of technology works, especially if the only experience they previously had was with putting a pen to paper.

Fleets must invest real time and effort into ensuring those who are utilizing an advanced technological solution are aware that it is going to be installed, how to use it, and how to utilize the data it provides. Many of these software and hardware systems are not inexpensive. Why should a motor carrier sink a ton of their well-earned money into implementing a system without the follow-through required to ensure they are getting the most out of it?

 

Windshield-Mounted GPS Devices Now Okay Says FMCSA

Back in 2016, the FMCSA allowed certain vehicle safety technologies to be mounted on windshield interiors. This included inside the area swept by windshield wipers. The rule was part of the 2015 FAST Act highway bill. The regulations specified that the voluntary mounting of safety technology on a windshield was allowed.

The technology specified included:

  • Camera systems
  • Speed management systems
  • Lane departure warning systems
  • Forward collision warning systems
  • Collision mitigation systems
  • Active cruise control
  • Other applicable technologies

At the time, the current regulations stated that devices could not be mounted more than six inches below the upper edge of the windshield and outside the truck driver’s line of sight. With the new regulation, the devices have to have been mounted no more than four inches below the upper edge or seven inches below the lower edge of the area swept by the windshield wipers. Again, they would have to be mounted outside the operator’s line of sight so that they could see road signals and signs.

Federal regulations further defined vehicle safety technologies as those related to fleet management, performance, behavior, speed or other systems related to those factors. Over time, the FMCSA made further exceptions to the rule, but it wouldn’t be long before requests were coming in for something more.

Then, came petitions from transportation companies that it should be more than just safety devices that are granted the exception. Read on for the full story.

Fleets Petition the FMCSA

By March of this year, a 60-truck fleet requested a waiver from the FMCSA asking if they – and other fleets – could be allowed to mount GPS devices in the area around the windshield. Specifically, they were asking about the area which had previously been designated for vehicle safety technology.

While the FMCSA had allowed vehicle safety technology mounting for three years, GPS devices were still off-limits. The trucking company asking for the waiver specifically stated in their petition that any carrier who wishes to mount a GPS device on the windshield within the area defined for vehicle safety technology should be allowed to do so.

The FMCSA took public comment on the potential waiver through April 23rd before finally making their ruling.

The FMCSA Decides

After some time tossing the idea around, the FMCSA finally came to a conclusion on the matter in mid-August, when they announced that they would grant the trucking company requesting the waiver a limited 5-year exemption. Furthermore, the exemption applied “on behalf of motor carriers operating commercial motor vehicles.”

Their exemption specifically stated that motor carriers operating commercial motor vehicles would be allowed to mount a GPS device on the interior of the windshield normally designated specifically for vehicle safety technologies. In their ruling, the FMCSA determined that mounting a GPS device in the windshield area would not have a negative impact on the safe operation of the vehicle.

They did specify that transportation companies would have to adhere to the terms and conditions of the exemption and that, if so, they would achieve a level of safety equivalent or greater to the level of safety provided by the original regulation.

With the new exemption in place, expect trucking companies to jump on board. By allowing motor carriers to mount the devices on the windshield, it frees up interior space in the cab for other critical devices and mechanisms. Furthermore, it puts necessary information in easy viewing range of the truck driver whenever they need it.

While many say a loosening of trucking regulations create an unsafe environment, most industry advocates agree that this change is only good and creates a better environment for professional truck drivers who have safety on their mind. The ELD mandate has proven this.

Lidar Technology Is Creating A New Trucking Safety Paradigm

Have you heard of LIDAR? If not, it is one of the most commonly-used methods for sensing vehicles and objects on the road, whether it be in passenger vehicles or in commercial motor vehicles. Most new passenger vehicles use a combination of cameras, radar or LIDAR, which essentially stands for “laser radar.”

LIDAR is used to look in front of the vehicle for potential hazards or collisions. It also works in concert with other safety systems such as collision mitigation systems and automatic braking systems. In fact, LIDAR is used in almost every safety system in production today, whether for passenger cars or commercial motor vehicles.

Many companies are working on using LIDAR for Class-8 commercial motor vehicles in a way that prevents the need for autonomous technology, although LIDAR can be used in either autonomous, semi-autonomous, or full truck driver control situations.

Even better, infrared LIDAR systems can work at night, low-light situations, fog, rain, and even swirling snow. LIDAR systems are particularly good at measuring physical distance no matter the environment. State-of-the-art LIDAR systems can measure the road up to six cars ahead.

The key is laser power amplification. As laser and lens technology continues to improve, real-time status updates come a lot faster. The only problem left is ensuring the LIDAR systems do not become blocked during use. Like a human eye with something in front of it, a blocked LIDAR system loses most of its functionality.

What Makes it Better

LIDAR is better than radar and other sensing technologies because it can sweep faster and view farther. On a Class 8 commercial motor vehicle, the application is even better because the LIDAR camera can be placed high up on the vehicle so that it has less obstructions and a good bird’s-eye view of what is going on around it.

Conversely, if you are using a simple camera system, the camera or video technology must take many pictures and then feed those images into a processing system that runs off an algorithm. This takes time, and when time is of the essence as a large Class 8 truck is barreling down the road, there is no room for delays.

LIDAR systems measure the distance to an object by bouncing a laser off an object and evaluating the reflection. This allows physical distance data to be the clue, rather than brake lights or a slowing vehicle. These systems mitigate the stopping distance required for large commercial motor vehicles.

Are They too Expensive?

Certainly, with these new technologies, cost can be an issue. Fortunately, as these devices go mass market and become far more commonplace, the price point will drop. Today, some manufacturers are offering multi-channel units for under $3,500. While this price tag may seem high, it is far lower than the cost of an accident.

The fact is, manufacturers are making significant strides in increasing the viability and safety outcomes of these systems. With a LIDAR unit on top of a big rig measuring the height of bridge overpass that is nearly 1,000 feet away, safety decisions behind the wheel become a lot easier.

Transportation companies and motor carriers see these technologies as a way to buttress their current safety efforts without compromising on cost. There is little doubt that technologies like LIDAR will eventually become mass market and far more ubiquitous in heavy-duty trucks. While it is still unclear when that day will come, as technology progresses, there is little doubt lasers will play an increasing role in improving the safety of large commercial motor vehicle use on our nation’s roads and highways.

Canada Puts Trucking Safety On The Map

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has put a new focus on trucking safety north of the border. In a 10-point plan they’ve created, the CTA has posited working with Transport Canada and government agencies in all the provinces to strengthen safety measures and increase overall compliance with government agencies.

The draft plan, which was released two months ago, asks local and federal Canadian transportation agencies to strengthen compliance with vexing trucking problems such as hours of service and unsafe truck driving practices. Representing thousands of carriers, CTA is looking for multiple ways to increase and improve trucking safety. And considering how tightly bound trucking is on both sides of the border, what Canada does has an impact on the United States market.

According to CTA President Stephan Laskowski, the CTA board looked at multiple ways that trucking safety could be improved in Canada. Specifically, they wanted to focus on smaller carriers and owner-operators who may feel like they don’t have to take safety or compliance as seriously.

Specific Proposals

CTA specifically intends to put forward regulations calling for an ELD mandate like what was put in place in the United States. To what may be the surprise of many, Canada does not have an ELD mandate in place. They are hoping that they will see an ELD mandate go into effect in 2019. The first draft proposal of a Canadian ELD mandate was released in December of 2017, with the Canadian government still reviewing the draft proposal.

The difference with the Canadian rule, however, is that it will only apply to motor carriers who are federally regulated, in other words, truck drivers that operate between different provinces. For carriers that operate within the provinces to fall under an ELD mandate, the provinces will need to create their own version of an ELD mandate.

The plan CTA has outlined calls for government agencies to partner with vehicle manufacturers to explore the feasibility of specific technologies, such as forward-facing cameras and other devices that track truck driver behavior. They also want a study to investigate how these technologies can be combined with an existing ELD.

They would also like to see provincial law enforcement officers with pre-screening technologies trying to seek out and identify operators who are flouting compliance and operating in ways that could contribute to a potential accident.

Identifying Best Practices

The final part of the plan is designed to help government agencies and industry advocates develop a system that identified trucking companies who pose a safety risk. They also want to create a best practices guide that transportation companies can use to improve their overall safety profile.

Going beyond what is happening in the United States, the plan also calls for mandatory training for new truck drivers. They specifically want to focus on distracted driving, but also cover safety basics for commercial motor vehicle operators.

Part of the new drive from Canadian regulators stems from an accident that happened in April between a big rig and a bus carrying a junior hockey team. The crash resulted in multiple fatalities and injuries and shortly after the crash the motor carrier that the truck driver worked for was suspended. Now the Canadian government is completing an audit of the carrier to determine if there were glaring deficiencies in the level of safety awareness the motor carrier exhibited.

Of course, CTA acknowledges that most of the Canadian truck drivers operating north of the border are professional and safe, but that there is also a minority of operators that may need to be addressed from a safety standpoint. Will we see an ELD mandate take hold north of the border within the next year? If CTA has anything to say about it, the answer is a definitive yes.

 

Welcome To The National Truck Driving Championships

While the name may not immediately bring “safety” to mind, the National Truck Driving Championships put the spotlight on truck driving safety. In fact, the top truck drivers in the country competed on August 15 – 18 in an effort to prove who has the best safety chops.

Called the trucker’s “Super Bowl of Safety,” the NTDC Championships tested 424 truck drivers who won their state qualifiers earlier in the year. To qualify for the championships, truck drivers had to have been with their motor carrier for at least one year with an accident-free record. Winners from the nine categories at the state level were then sent on to the national competition, with judges evaluating them on a written exam and truck driving skills.

What Is It All About?

Across four days of hard competition, elite truck drivers from fleets across the country had a chance to bring home a trophy from within their division. Still, only one truck driver could lay claim to the title of “Grand Champion.”

In order to make it through the competition, truck drivers needed to demonstrate their safety proficiency by displaying in-depth knowledge regarding essential truck driver information, pre-trip inspections, and then make their way through an advanced truck driving course.

This intensive competition is designed to highlight professional truck drivers who have stood out among the crowded field of hundreds of thousands of truck drivers who operate on the nation’s roads day-in and day-out. Held in Columbus, Ohio, the competition is designed to provide a true skills and training test for truck drivers who have already demonstrated they have what it takes to operate safely on our nation’s roads and highways.

This event dovetails with the National Step Van Driving Championships and included a walk-through of the course and preview of the vehicles that were used for the pre-trip inspection portion of the competition. Once the on-hand part of the competition was completed, participating truck drivers were required to take a written exam to prove their proficiency on the topic.

The event drew so much attention that FMCSA administrator Ray Martinez even made an appearance and greeted participating truck drivers during a breakfast ceremony entitled the “Breakfast of Champions.”

There were several categories involved, including:

  • 3-axle
  • 4-axle
  • 5-axle
  • Sleeper berth
  • Twins
  • Straight truck
  • Step van
  • Flatbed
  • Tanker

Winners were announced during an awards banquet, where ATA leadership addressed the competitors. Curious about who this year’s finalists were? Simply follow this link.

The National Truck Driving Championships has been going on for many, many years, and proudly holds itself as a paragon event focusing on trucking safety and great driving. Professional truck drivers from all over the country work their hardest to enter the competition and many are sponsored from their own states.

Events like this only prove how essential it is for the trucking industry to focus on safety and, more than that, it shows the public that the transportation sector has a singular focus on ensuring the nation’s roads and highways remain safe for truck drivers and passenger cars, wherever and whenever.

Fleet managers, owners, and owner-operators should keep this competition in mind as they go about their daily routine. Not only does it reinforce good behavior, but it shows that your operation has safety in mind, which is quite possibly the most important aspect of running a transportation company.

Finding Parking Back In The News With New Research

Have you heard? The American Transportation Institute (ATRI) released a new bit of research examining the vexing issue of truck parking. ATRI found that 63% of all truck drivers look for parking for more than 15 minutes between 4pm and midnight. The amount of potential driving time and pay that is sacrificed as a result amounts to an average of nearly an hour – no small amount.

This presents a critical safety issue, for many reasons, but it also represents a major productivity problem. The parking shortage would then represent a shortage that would reduce an individual truck driver’s productivity by over 9,000 revenue-earning miles per year. This could equate in lost wages nearing $5,000.

What happens, as a result? Truck drivers are forced to take greater risks in order to find a decent place to park their vehicle. Now, the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) is weighing in on the issue by tapping into raw GPS data to determine where parking facilities are most needed across the state. Will other states follow suit?

More on the Data

ARDOT is using ATRI’s research data to try and figure out whether a vehicle was at rest or on the move, based on the GPS pings sent to and received from said vehicles. Once the information is received, the agency can then overlay a comprehensive map of truck parking facilities across the state. The map includes private truck stops, public truck stops, and large parking lots near interstate highways, such as those belonging to Walmart, Target, or Lowe’s.

By laying the data over each other, researchers and ARDOT can determine how many trucks were parked at what area and for how long. It is then easy to determine if any were overcrowded. The best use of this data is both to determine where overcrowding is occurring, but also where it is going to occur. By being able to predict it, the state can better allocate resources to its prevention.

ARDOT has been conducting a multi-year study going to private and public rest stops along the four major interstates within the state. The study includes state employees manually counting trucks parked there, which they had been doing to track issues. The new research method allows the state to become far more pinpointed and precise, without having to rely on labor-intensive processes.

Arkansas is now the only place where parking has turned into a major issue. The Federal Highway Administration is releasing a commercial parking survey any day now. The federal study will look at parking needs related to port shipping.

A Federal Study

According to the agency, in a statement they said they would assess the needs of drayage, short-haul and some long-haul operations. The federal study will primarily rely on information provided by both the Department of Transportation and state agencies.

With so many truck drivers reporting problems finding decent places to park, the spotlight on safety becomes ever-brighter. Whether motor carriers are worried about the safety of their truck drivers, safety of their cargo, or safety of others on the road, it is vital that either the federal government or state agencies finally do something about parking for truck drivers.

Will we see actions come before words? At this time, it is to early to tell. With Congress and the White House focused on other priorities, many within the industry openly wonder whether parking will make it back to the front-burner, especially with the midterm elections coming up. With bold action, from either the Trump administration, Congress, or other industry advocates, the trucking industry can see real change for truck drivers looking for somewhere safe to park.

Critical Ways Trucking Safety Can Be Improved

It is no secret that tractor-trailers competing with passenger cars on our nation’s roads and highways can potentially invite disaster. In fact, deaths from crashes involving large trucks and passenger cars have been rising since 2016. While it could be attributed to lots more newer truck drivers on the road, the fact is, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) deaths are up 5.4% from the same period in 2015.

Yet, more can still be done. Research clearly proves that advanced safety systems continue to reduce crashes as they continue to be installed on more and more passenger vehicles. Systems like forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking are making a big difference in preventing crashes and saving lives.

More on the Problem

The problem is, we are not yet seeing enough adoption of these devices on large commercial motor vehicles. Far too many big rigs on the road today are too old and simply predate the advent of these new safety technologies. In fact, according to some estimates, only around 15% of large commercial motor vehicle fleets in the United states are using advances safety systems on their rigs.

Unfortunately, it is also estimated that over 100,000 crashes per year – a quarter of those involving large commercial motor vehicles – could be prevented if systems such as blind spot warnings and stability control were standard on semi-trucks. Many argue, and rightfully so, that these technologies should be prioritized for trucks before cars. With up to 80,000 pounds barreling down the road, no safety stone should be left unturned.

There are two types of safety systems used on trucks. One alerts truck drivers of dangers, whether it be a potential collision or lane departure, and the other helps to prevent collisions, whether through emergency braking or turn assist. Many say truck manufacturers need to make these features much more readily available on the equipment they sell.

On the other side are trucking organizations that point to swift OEM action to adopt these technologies. They feel more regulation is not necessary. Technology is wonderful, but it cannot replace an experienced and skilled truck driver. What is more, trucking advocacy organizations point to the fact that more large truck accidents are caused by the drivers of passenger cars than they are by the truck driver, which research proves.

Yet, with safety technology showing widespread adoption among passenger vehicles, some openly wonder why trucking accidents and deaths are on the rise. One major consideration is the improving economy. More passenger cars and trucks are on our nation’s roads, which increases the chances for an accident.

Big Shippers Make Moves

One way to ensure we see swift adoption is to see big companies get in the game. As one example, United Parcel Service has been retrofitting a lot of their older vehicles with new, advanced safety systems. UPS now says that nearly half of their fleet is outfitted with collision-mitigation systems and they are hoping to see that number inch towards 70% by 2020.

FedEx and DHL have already made similar moves. But how much movement towards greater adoption remains to be seen. With the American Trucking Associations (ATA) coming out strongly against regulation mandating adoption, many companies may be sitting on the sidelines. It might take more prodding to get them to jump in.

Cost is another factor. Owner-operators and small fleets may not have the capital requirements necessary to procure the equipment. Many owner-operators point to million-mile records without an accident, but is this enough? Clearly, with more people hitting the roads, more needs to be done to ensure large commercial motor vehicles continue to see widespread safety technology adoption.

 

A New Corrective Action Plan For CSA Is Revealed

Have you heard? The FMCSA has released a mandated ‘corrective action plan’ for the much-maligned CSA program. But what does this mean?

The Details

On July 16 the FMCSA announced that they had delivered what they called a “Correlation Study Corrective Action Plan” for the CSA program. The report was delivered to Congress. The new corrective action plan will outline how the agency will address recommendations made in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report on improving the safety measurements the federal government uses to rank motor carriers.

The report examined how effective the percentile ranks given under SMS actually identifies high-risk carriers and what to do if the answer to that is not much. The report also takes a look at the accuracy of the data entered into the SMS database. Researchers were tasked with discovering other approaches to singling out high-risk fleets more effectively. Finally, they wanted to know how effective making the SMS information public has been on lessening the number of crashes recorded.

It is useful to note that the agency has already removed the SMS preview website from public view. This preview website contained changes that the agency was going to propose regarding SMS. Since the changes were released before the NAS report, they are moot.

There were six key elements in the NAS study that the agency addressed in their report to Congress. At the top of the list was the methodology the FMCSA uses to approach the data. NAS openly wondered if the methodology used by the FMCSA was not scientific enough in its modeling approach. They specifically mentioned an “Item Response Theory” approach to making the SMS system more fair and accurate.

What is IRT-Based?

With an IRT-based approach, the agency hopes that they can get an accurate measure of the ‘safety culture’ from fleet to fleet, rather than a zero-sum game of identification and intervention. This approach was further pushed late last year by the FMCSA’s Director of Compliance and Enforcement during a conference in Florida.

The agency states within their action plan that they would proceed with developing and testing an IRT model program. Of course, they would still receive public input on important measures, but they hope the IRT model will streamline and better inform the rule and regulations the agency does or does not decide to move forward with.

There is also a push to ensure that the quality of data within SMS is uncorrupted. A more frequent and much more detailed VMT data would provide much greater insight. Right now, the FMCSA only collects VMT data every couple of years. There is also no interoperability or communication between state and federal systems. More frequent collection of and collaboration with VMT data at the state and federal level stands to benefit everyone.

Finally, the agency wants to ensure it gives stakeholders proper consideration. Input must come not just from public comment, but from insurance companies, shippers, receivers, and just about anyone else making freight move within the transportation sector.

After the program is put together, FMCSA will create values based off of the IRT model to determine what information is relevant for the SMS system. Their goal is to have a small-scale model of the program ready to go by September of 2018.

How will all of this inform the next generation of CSA and SMS deployment? We will have to wait until the outcome of the FMCSA’s own internal studies before knowing which way the pendulum will swing on this issue.