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Traction in Crash Accountability

FMCSA program identifying nonpreventable accidents is big step

By:  David Heller, CDS

Writing a monthly column as it relates to the regulatory and legislative trials and tribulations of the Truckload Carriers Association and its members seems as though we consistently tackle new discussions and topics while never really having closure on previously written ones. How do I know this? It’s really quite simple. As I sat at my desk and began pounding away at my keyboard, it occurred to me that I was either keenly aware of the topic at hand or I had written something on this before. Researching the annuls of past columns proves that my gut instinct was right on point: Last August I wrote a column on the very issue that you will be reading about today, i.e., CSA and its incorporation of crash accountability into its BASICs scores.

Here we are, a bit over a year later and with a touch of vanity, I will say that the leadership at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must have read my story and said, “Wow, Dave Heller certainly knows what he is talking about!” The reality is that our industry spoke—and the agency listened. Yes, it really can be that simple.

We are at a point in our regulatory lifetime where trucking is outpacing our government counterparts. We can truly identify real world safety problems and recommend incorporating them into the existing regulatory framework because it makes sense. The very folks reading this article have always talked the talk and are beginning to walk it, too.

For years, we have clamored about accidents that are not our fault and should not be held against us when painting a picture of the safety performance of the motor carriers in question. Now, FMCSA has actually developed a program that could indeed work—a program that would actually identify certain accidents that could be nonpreventable and create a new part of the Crash Indicator BASIC score that consists of percentiles with and without the corresponding crashes.

Why is this being done? Well, because the truest story has not always been told. The Safety Measurement System may not have identified the highest-risk motor carriers for interventions, and the listing of crashes on the CSA website can possibly give an inaccurate impression about the risk posed by a company. Those words, fresh off of FMCSA’s website, provide evidence that the demonstration project has become a two-year priority to move forward and try to improve a system that we have said was flawed.

This is a great start, a beginning that goes a long way toward carriers being able to make an argument that some accidents in question just should not be held against them in CSA or any measurement system for that matter.

So, now that we are able to submit accidents for preventability determinations, should we actually do it? The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” We should submit our accidents that we have questions about, accidents that could better paint the picture of why this demonstration program was developed in the first place. There has been a need for this program. Not only must we now use it, but we must demonstrate the need for it, support that position, and actually use it.

Submitting an accident for review is no easy task. Ensuring it falls into one of the proper accident types is paramount, and FMCSA’s website lists eight kinds of crashes that are eligible for review. It is fair to note that not every accident will be deemed nonpreventable. Each and every carrier does run the risk of it not going in their favor; more so, there is a possibility that the accident determination may appear in potential litigation that may involve your carrier.

In the interest of full information disclosure, it is important to note and be wary of these items. But by no means should they be viewed as a possible deterrent toward obtaining clarification on an accident that your driver could not have prevented. To insist that we follow the very same advice that we provided to the agency to develop such a program, submit as much relevant information as possible to the review of the accident in question and take advantage of a program that we long insisted we must have.

With this in mind and the example that we are already setting, we can hope to get the CSA program as promised and deliver a safety picture that truly identifies what an unsafe carrier may be.

October 2017