The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) yesterday announced “planned improvements” to the Carrier Safety Measurement System (SMS), which was first implemented in December 2010 as part of the agency's broader Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety-compliance program.

A preview of the extensive changes announced became available to both motor carriers and law-enforcement agencies yesterday. The changes are scheduled to be available for viewing by the public in July. FMCSA noted there will be “additional opportunity for public comment on the changes” after the preview period ends in July 2012.

FMCSA said the improvements to SMS, announced in a notice published in the Federal Register for March 27, are based on ongoing analysis and feedback from enforcement personnel, the motor carrier industry and other stakeholders. “The changes more effectively identify and prioritize high-risk and other unsafe motor carriers for enforcement interventions designed to reduce commercial motor vehicle crashes and hazardous materials incidents,” the agency stated.

As noted above, FMCSA will provide motor carriers with the ability to preview how the improvements impact their individual safety data in SMS. These improvements include:

1.      Changes to the SMS methodology that “identify higher risk carriers while addressing industry biases”

2.      Better applications of SMS results for agency interventions by “more accurately identifying safety sensitive carriers” (i.e., carriers transporting people and carriers hauling hazardous materials (HM), so that such firms can be selected for CSA interventions at more stringent levels

3.      More specific fact-based displays of SMS results on the SMS website.

Motor carriers can find the data preview at http://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/. During the data-preview period, FMCSA is requesting comments on the impacts of the changes. Comments must be received on or before May 29th and should include supporting data “wherever appropriate.”

According to FMCSA, from the start of CSA it “expected to modify SMS as new data and additional analyses became available.” To date, FMCSA has made enhancements to SMS based on feedback from State partners, industry stakeholders and safety advocates.

“Moving forward,” stated the agency, “FMCSA plans to apply a systematic approach to making improvements to SMS, prioritizing and releasing packages of improvements as needed, and providing an SMS preview period for law enforcement and motor carriers prior to implementation. These improvements are the Agency's response to findings from its ongoing analyses of data, input from law enforcement, the motor carrier industry, and other safety stakeholders.”

 This “package” of SMS enhancements includes:

1.     Strengthening the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC by moving cargo/load securement violations from the Cargo-Related BASIC to the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC

2.     Simultaneously renaming the Cargo-Related BASIC the HM BASIC, which will better identify HM-related safety problems and change how HM carriers are classified to allow for increased intervention scrutiny

3.     Better aligning SMS with Intermodal Equipment Provider (IEP) regulations

4.     Aligning violations that are included in SMS with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) inspection levels by eliminating the vehicle violations derived from driver-only inspections and driver violations from vehicle-only inspections

5.     Improving the identification of passenger carriers

6.     Modifying the SMS Web site display to:

a.      Change current terminology, including the terms “Insufficient Data” and “Inconclusive,” to fact-based definitions that clarify the carrier's status in each BASIC

b.     Distinguish between crashes with injuries and crashes with fatalities.

Following the preview period, FMCSA said it may further refine the new methodology before implementation and release of the revised SMS results to the public.

As of March 27, motor carriers will be able to preview how the changes detailed above will affect their data and SMS results.

During the SMS preview, FMCSA said, motor carriers “will have the opportunity to review the accuracy of SMS data, provide feedback, and if necessary, take action to improve their safety performance.”

According to the agency, during the March 2012 SMS Preview motor carriers should:

·       View their operational information to determine if they are now subject to placardable HM or passenger carrier intervention thresholds.

·       View the new HM BASIC to review applicable violations.

·       View the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC to determine how cargo/load securement violations previously recorded in the Cargo-Related BASIC impact their Vehicle Maintenance percentiles, and to see which IEP-related violations have been recorded.

·       Verify that vehicle violations found during driver-only inspections and driver violations found during vehicle-only inspections have been removed from their Vehicle Maintenance BASIC data.

·       Review alternative terminology for “insufficient data” and “inconclusive” in the BASIC summary

·       View the “Summary of Activities” section of SMS Online to see the new breakout between injury crashes and fatal crashes.

FMCSA pointed out that it will collect, assess and address feedback during the SMS Preview and that it may “further refine the enhancements” prior to public implementation in July 2012.