In addition to compliance reviews and roadside inspections, FMCSA provides funding for states to conduct yet a third type of truck safety review, called the Traffic Enforcement (TE) Program. This relatively new effort is defined as targeted roadside enforcement program that includes identification of one or more of 21 aggressive and/or dangerous driver violations; stopping vehicles on the roadside; conducting driver (Level III) or walk-around (Level II) inspections; citing the violation(s); and taking appropriate enforcement action.

Most people don't understand how the program works, including how results are used to benchmark carriers and drivers. In February, however, DOT released data from 1998-2000 that helped me get a better understanding of the program.

During that three-year period, 24% (1.7-million) of the 7-million DOT roadside inspections carried out were related to the TE program. Those inspections resulted in 944,324 “specified” violations, including 64.3% categorized as “serious.” The remaining, characterized as “other,” include size and weight violations, failure to use warning devices or flashers, and failure to properly secure a parked vehicle — yet they're not included in the SafeStat Driver SEA for carrier benchmarking.

The “serious” violations, however, are incorporated into the “moving violation” section of the Driver SEA measure. For 1998-2000, the program summary listed 600,958 moving violations, including speeding; failure to obey traffic control device; following too close; improper lane change; improper passing; reckless driving; improper turns; and failure to yield right of way.

Surprisingly, not all states send their moving violations information to the Federal truck safety database. States at the top of the list for reporting violations include Indiana, Washington, Oregon, Tennessee and Michigan. As a matter of fact, 31% of reported moving violations originate from those jurisdictions. States that don't report the information, such as California, Illinois, Texas, Virginia and New Jersey, appear to be responsible for just under 1% of all moving violations. I seriously doubt that drivers in those states are any safer than those in the rest of the country.

Truck safety enforcement should target unsafe on-road behavior, rather than emphasize weigh-station inspections. I asked Tennessee's chief enforcement officer, Major Butch Lawson of that state's Dept. of Safety, how the program was impacting Tennessee's truck safety results. (Before 1996, Tennessee had a reputation for weigh station inspection and violation quotas.)

Lawson said that on-road targeting of aggressive or unsafe behavior was greatly responsible for crash reduction along Tennessee's busiest highways.

An officer's performance is based on the number of crashes in their assigned area, rather than the number of inspections. Everyone is assigned “road duty,” which includes aggressive patrolling for speeding, unsafe lane changes or following too close. Violators are pulled over and subjected to Level II or III driver inspections. Using this strategy, Lawson and his team have reduced fatal truck crashes from to 119 in 2001, from a high of 152 in 1996.

If more states used this approach, we might see a dramatic impact on truck safety nationwide. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Personally, I will not rest until the TE Program represents at least 75% of all inspections.

We must understand how the disparity in reporting this information impacts our benchmarking outcome. For example, carriers operating primarily in states that do more TE Program reporting are likely to have higher, i.e., worse, Driver SEA/Moving Violation numbers than carriers from low-reporting states.

Even more important, we must communicate this information to our drivers and operational teams. Remember, the rules of the game are still evolving.

Jim York is the manager of Zurich North America's Risk Engineering Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.