Inspectors are using more complex strategies to target unsafe vehicles

Recently, I've been part of a safety task force that is providing guidance to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in its efforts to establish a long-term information systems strategy.

Our primary goal is to assist the agency in improving the timeliness and accuracy of crash data, as well as incorporating driver-performance factors into the “safety fitness” equation.

Another goal is to look at how the rules of the game have changed. And we're going to make every effort to give you as much information as possible about how the agency determines which carriers to target during roadside inspections, or which are more likely to receive on-site inspections.

Although the safety-rating system, which is based on on-site reviews of driver qualifications, hours of service, and drug- and alcoho-testing programs, is still in existence, inspectors are also using complex new strategies to target specific carriers during roadside inspections.

As you are no doubt aware, a great deal of the roadside inspection process is based on a visual assessment of vehicle defects. Trucks entering inspection stations with obvious problems, such as flat tires and lights that aren't working, for example, have the highest likelihood of being “pulled around back” for a Level One inspection.

In the absence of obvious defects, however, enforcement officers still have other tools at their disposal. At this point, the most important of these tools seems to be a computer program known as ISS-2 (Inspection Selection System, version 2).

This program uses accident data, driver and vehicle inspection data, information about moving violations, and enforcement history to rank interstate carriers on a scale of 0 to 100. The higher the score, the more likely a truck will be targeted for inspection.

Carriers with a score of 75 or higher are red-flagged as “Stop and Inspect” candidates; a score of 50 to 74 places carriers in the “Optional Inspect” category. Scores are computed by the agency in March and September every year, in conjunction with the national SafeStat ranking.

The ISS-2 program also contains “violation profiles” for individual carriers, broken down by percentage of previous violations in 14 different categories. “Warning thresholds” for each are established based on the national average for a particular violation.

Here is a list of some of the recent thresholds: brakes, 69.9%; wheels or tires, 23.6%; driver's logbook violations, 23.5%; steering or frame, 14.8%; driver's hours, 3.6%; drugs or alcohol, 0.2%; traffic laws, 7.6%.

Since past history generally serves as a pretty good indicator of future performance, these profiles can give inspectors some idea of what a particular carrier's problem areas might be during any given inspection.

Many fleets are not aware that they can have access to this profile. You can and should make it your business to obtain a copy of it. You can find it in the Inspection Characteristics section of your Carrier Profile, which is available from FMCSA.

So here's my advice. Get copies of your Carrier Profile report on a regular basis, and post the Inspection Characteristics data in a prominent location in your operation. Demand improvement in areas where the percentage of violations is high.

Not only will this approach yield an improved bottom line (much like sales and revenue projections do), it will also give your fleet an advantage in the safety-ratings game.

Jim York is a senior risk engineering consultant at Zurich Insurance, Fredericksburg, Va.