The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) core mission is to prevent crashes, injuries, and fatalities related to large trucks and buses on the public highway. An important step to achieving the mission is to identify unsafe motor carriers. The FMCSA uses the Safety Measurement System (SMS) to identify carriers with potential safety problems. The agency’s Safety Compliance and Enforcement program is called Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA).

The FMCSA organized the SMS data into seven categories: unsafe driving, crash indicator history, hour of service compliance, vehicle maintenance, control substance/alcohol, hazardous material compliance, and driver fitness. Along with these seven categories, the FMCSA also uses roadside performance data collected on roadside inspections, and crash reports.

The Compliance, Safety and Accountability score is used by the FMCSA to hold motor carriers and drivers accountable for their role in safety. Further, the CSA score is used by FMCSA to identify high-risk motor carriers and drivers that may require intervention by the FMCSA.

However, since the CSA score has been used, the trucking industry has sought to change some of the standards used by the government to identify high risk carriers. In July 2017, FMCSA announced a crash preventability demonstration program to evaluate the eight categories of crashes through submissions of data review. In August 2019, based on the experiences with the demonstration program, the FMCSA proposed a new crash preventability determination program in which the FMCSA expanded the types of eligibility crashes and modified the SMS system to exclude crashes with non-preventable determination.

The following crash types are eligible for the program:

  • Struck-in-the-rear type crashes;
  • Wrong direction or illegal turn type crashes;
  • Parked or legally stopped type crashes;
  • Failure of the other vehicle to stop type crashes;
  • Under-the-influence type crashes;
  • Medical issues, falling asleep or distracted driving type crashes;
  • Cargo equipment and debris type crashes;
  • Animal strike type crashes;
  • Suicide type crashes; and, lastly,
  • Rare or unusual type crashes.

Under the Crash Preventability Demonstration Program, a carrier can request the FMCSA review a collision if the carrier believes the event was unavoidable. If a crash falls in one of the above categories, the carrier may submit the crash for review by sending material such as video footage, photos, police reports, insurance claim information, hearing transcripts and/or affidavits.

Once a motor carrier submits data for review, the FMCSA reviews the data and determines whether the crash was not preventable, preventable or undecided. The next step would be input from the general public on a particular crash as long as the FMCSA did not determine the crash was not preventable. After all these steps have been followed, the FMCSA posts its final decision and that will determine if the crash is included in the Safety Measurement System data.

Under the former system, collision data reported to the FMCSA did not specify the motor carrier’s role in the crash or whether the crash was preventable.

The FMCSA said the goal of the program is to examine the feasibility, cost and benefits of determining and exploring the preventability of certain crash types and to identify high risk motor carriers.

After the program had been running approximately one year, the FMCSA released the following data:

  • The agency received 5,228 review requests.
  • The agency issued 2,790 determinations during that time period.
  • The agency found the following: 94% of the crashes reviewed were not preventable, 1.5% were preventable, and 4.5% were undecided. Most of the collisions reviewed were commercial vehicles that were struck from the rear end.

Effective May 1, 2020, the FMCSA announced that it would not count crashes in which the motor carrier is not at fault in calculating the carrier’s safety measurement profile.

Since 2010, the FMCSA Safety Measurement System has used safety performance information and the seven-behavior analysis and safety improvement categories to prioritize carriers for safety intervention. While the system is not perfect, it is at least an attempt to keep motor carriers aware of their safety status so they may implement change before the federal government intervenes.

If you need more information, contact Mike Crow, a lawyer in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section. Mike handles motor vehicle accident litigation for the firm.


This story appears in the July 2020 edition of The Jere Beasley Report. Read the Report online, download a PDF, and subscribe to be notified when new issues are released.

Jere L. Beasley, Beasley Allen Founder
Jere Beasley

Jere Beasley, the founding member of Beasley Allen Law Firm, has practiced law as an advocate for victims of wrongdoing since 1962. He was the lead Beasley Allen attorney in the record $11.9 billion award against ExxonMobil Corp. on behalf of the state of Alabama.

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