FMCSA Remains Stubborn After Crash Data Study

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Report finds crash data unreliable for predicting safety

One of the bigger controversies in the compliance world seems likely to continue raging, following the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s release of a major study at the end of January. The issue at hand was the Crash Weighting of the CSA compliance monitoring system. The system currently weighs all crashes the same, regardless of fault – an issue that has been received with intense anger from industry insiders. The study, triggered by a Congressional investigation into the controversy, was released on January 28, with FMCSA doubling down on its stance that all crashes are a good predictor of future accidents.

What the Study Looked At

Ordered after a Congressional inquiry, the study sought to answer three distinct questions:

  1. Do Police Reports provide sufficient, consistent, and reliable information about crashes to make a broader determination about carrier safety?
  2. Does a Crash Weight actually predict a stronger risk of crashing?
  3. What can the agency do differently?

The agency used independent assessment for the first two questions and then took public input for suggestions as to what to do differently.

Controversial Current System

The current system used by FMCSA is not popular, to say the least. CSA currently includes all accidents in the crash weighting and even lists them on the public website (although the Crash Weighting itself remains private). This includes accidents where the carrier was not at fault. The site also does not provide any context about the accident, only that it happened. For example, if a carrier’s driver rear-ended another vehicle at a stoplight, the crash count on the carrier’s public CSA site would increase by one. The private crash weighting would also be readjusted. The controversial part is that the exact same result would play out if the details of the accident were reversed, and the carrier’s vehicle was the one that was struck.

Other factors that use crash data to make determinations use police and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data to paint a complete picture. Most obviously, insurance is calculated this way. Generally, insurance rates are not increased for a driver if they were not at fault. Critics of the CSA system have pointed out that the insurance industry has survived for generations using this data to calculate future risk.

Analysis Findings Offer Little Hope of Change

Once the study was released, it became immediately obvious that the controversy would only continue. FMCSA published two key findings. The first was that adding police data would be time consuming and expensive. They also questioned that the data from the police might not be accurate. The agency said in a press release: “The study pointed out that implementing a crash weighting effort on a national scale would require a method for uniformly acquiring final Police Accident Reports, a process and system for uniform analysis, and a method for receiving and analyzing public input.”

The second key finding was that, while controversial, the key idea behind the crash weighting, that all accidents can be tied to an increased likelihood of a future accident, was sound. The agency remained committed to the system, which it said was a “strong indicator of [a carrier’s] future crash risk.”

What Can You Do?

With FMCSA seemingly committed to the current system for the time being, you may be wondering exactly what it is you can do to keep your crash rating low. Our recommendation is to ensure that all vehicle maintenance and inspection programs are being completed correctly every day. We also recommend an ongoing program of driver training and assessment. With all crashes being counted, carriers need to ensure that accidents of all kinds are minimized.

We also recommend contacting your Congressional representatives regarding this issue. It has already been explored in both the House and Senate. It seems that, with FMCSA remaining intransigent, any change that might occur will only come at the command of Legislators.

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