February 17, 2024

FMCSA questioned on studies added to safety fitness rulemaking


WASHINGTON — A group of trade associations is warning federal regulators against including data the groups consider too old and irrelevant for use in developing a rule aimed at determining if a trucking company should stay in business.

In a joint filing with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the 11 associations, which represent trucking companies, truck drivers, manufacturers and logistics companies, contend that six technology-related studies FMCSA recently added to its Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) are “befuddling” in the context of formulating new regulations affecting carrier safety fitness.

“The majority of the documents cited are dated and have no direct relevance to a new SFD, or to the agency’s previous notice of a possible reboot of its Safety Measurement System (SMS),” the group wrote in comments filed with FMCSA on Monday.

“Stakeholders do not object to the FMCSA’s consideration of technology to assist carriers in operating more safely and reducing highway fatalities. It is an entirely different question, though, whether unproven AI can be developed in sufficient quantity to create an SFD.

“The cost of the new data system, and of massaging enough data to be statistically relevant for over 95% of the regulated carriers that are extremely small and have less than five trucks, is an unsolved problem … for which there is no easy or cheap answer.”

In the ANPRM issued last year, FMCSA asked the trucking industry for feedback on whether it should look more favorably on carriers and owner-operators that adopt and use safety technologies — such as crash avoidance systems — in determining a safety rating for those carriers and drivers.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has opposed that approach, asserting that small-business carriers would be at a disadvantage while only larger carriers and those that can afford to install new technologies would benefit.

“If these motor carriers are rewarded with better safety ratings, then smaller carriers would likely see their safety rating downgraded without any actual change in their safety performance,” OOIDA argued in its own comments filed on Monday. “Driver training, experience, and safety performance must still be valued over the mere installation of safety technologies.”

OOIDA, like the 11 associations in their joint filing, also pushed back on the studies FMCSA added to the docket which the agency may rely on for a formal proposed rule. OOIDA cited, among other things, a lack of demographic information, limited sample size and the age of the reports.

“We believe the studies contain various flaws that limit their findings,” OOIDA stated. “These reports should not be used as a basis to incorporate the adoption and use of safety technologies into the SFD methodology.”

Technology approach has supporters

But some safety groups disagree with OOIDA’s stance on incorporating technology into potential new rules to determine carrier safety and also do not oppose FMCSA considering the studies that were added to the docket.

The Institute for Safer Trucking, Road Safe America and the Safe Operating Speed Alliance commended FMCSA for its “proactive approach” of adding the research to the docket and for considering safety technology in SFD.

“When a carrier invests in active and preventative safety technologies like [intelligent speed assistance] and [automatic emergency braking], it underscores their commitment to preventing harm and operating safely,” the groups stated in comments filed with FMCSA.

“Encouraging the adoption of such proven technologies, some of which have yet to be required, through SFD recognition would help accelerate their widespread implementation and enhance road safety.”

The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, a coalition known as the Trucking Alliance and whose members include large trucking companies, also fully supports using crash-avoidance technology in determining carrier safety scores.

“In fact, the Trucking Alliance supports the study of all peer-reviewed research regarding truck safety,” the group wrote in its comments. “This process can help develop a Safety Fitness Determination that more closely addresses the need for safety management in the industry.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.


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