Deficiencies in Government System for Rating Safety of Trucking Company Crash Risks


March 17, 2014

Although the trucking industry is heavily regulated because of the special danger posed by semi-trucks, the number of people who suffer serious life-changing injuries in commercial trucking accidents is still disproportionately high. A report just released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates large commercial trucks are involved in 125,000 collisions annually. Tractor-trailer crashes cause injury to approximately 78,000 people per year and kill 4,100 more. The new GAO report was intended to evaluate the effectiveness of the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration's (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) Program. The GAO determined that the program has resulted in more investigations which has yielded safety benefits and has doubled the number of annual interventions by the FMSCA during the five year period ending in 2012.

While the GAO assessment of the CSA program has resulted in closer scrutiny of commercial carriers and more frequent intervention, the report indicates that the system does not correspond closely enough with the types of violations that cause accidents. This deficiency limits its accuracy in identifying commercial trucking companies that constitute the greatest risk to others sharing the roadways. The program involves gathering and analyzing information from roadside inspections and tractor-trailer accidents. The data collected is used to compare the performance and safety record of similar commercial carriers by assigning a score under the program's Safety Measurement System (SMS).

The GAO evaluation of the CSA rating system revealed that the scores assigned to trucking companies frequently are not based on sufficient information to provide a fair and accurate comparison. The audit results have led the GAO to indicate that the FMCSA program needs to be adapted to provide safety ratings based on actual safety records even if it result in a smaller number of carriers receiving good safety ratings. The study found a number of deficiencies in this data driven approach to identifying commercial carriers that pose a higher risk of causing collisions. The GAO points out that the ability of a commercial carrier's score to predict the likelihood of crashes requires analyzing violations that are most closely related to crashes. However, these types of violations are not frequent enough to strongly associate such violations with particular trucking companies. Further, there is not sufficient safety data about individual carriers to provide a reliable comparison between carriers. In conclusion, the SMS scores do not provide a high degree of reliability in predicting which carriers more likely to be involved in trucking accidents because of the lack of information available under the data driven approach of the CSA program.

Because of the unique danger posed by collisions involving fully loaded tractor-trailers that can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, commercial carriers are subject to extensive regulations covering such areas as driver qualifications, vehicle maintenance, driving conduct, recordkeeping and more. However, programs like the CSA are important to monitor the effectiveness of efforts to enforce these safety regulations. When trucking companies fail to intervene to remove large trucks with safety issues or drivers with poor driving records from service, the consequences can be serious injury and wrongful death. When commercial carriers and drivers violate trucking regulations, these violations may constitute a basis for imposing liability if they are a factor in causing a truck crash.

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Category: Auto Accidents

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