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Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration: The Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System (SAFER)

The FMCSA implemented the Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) system to provide the trucking industry and the public with detailed safety information concerning interstate trucking companies. To access information concerning a specific company click here. Clicking on the “Company Snapshot” link and entering the name of a company yields information on inspections, accidents, and the company’s safety rating. At the top right corner of the Company Snapshot you can click on “Licensing & Insurance” to obtain information concerning the company’s insurer for the past several years, the policy limits, and the agents for service of process in various states.

At the end of 2010, the FMCSA instituted the Compliance, Safety, and Accountability System (CSA). An integral part of the CSA is the Safety Management System (SMS), which collects an extensive amount of information in order to evaluate the safety performance of the company. Clicking on “SMS Results” in the top right hand corner of the “Company Snapshot” unlocks a treasure trove of information concerning the company’s safety record.

The purpose of the CSA is “to achieve a greater reduction in large truck and bus crashes, injuries and fatalities while maximizing the FMCSA’s resources.” Currently, the FMCSA is responsible for regulating more than 725,000 interstate and foreign-based truck and bus companies. Each year the FMCSA is able to reach only approximately 2 percent of the regulated motor carriers. However, with the development of new technologies and the implementation of the CSA, the FMCSA expects to make substantial improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of its enforcement and compliance programs. The CSA was designed to provide the FMCSA with a more robust tool to help identify a carrier’s unsafe behavior before a fatal crash.

The CSA deals with the collection of crash data and safety violation data, analyzing the weight and severity of each violation and each crash, and determining which intervention procedures should be utilized to address safety issues before the problems result in a crash.

The SMS quantifies the safety performance of the trucking companies. Each company will receive a percentile score (scale is 0 to 100) and will be ranked within an appropriate peer group. The SMS allows enforcement officers to identify specific safety problems and to “surgically address them through a tailored set of interventions.” John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, Safety Measurement System (SMS) Methodology 1-2 (v. 2.2 Jan. 2012).

The SMS results will be easily accessible to the carriers via the Internet to encourage improvement in motor carrier safety. The SMS will also provide shippers, freight brokers, and third-party logistics companies with the necessary safety information so that they can make safety-based business decisions when selecting a carrier. The CSA 2010 utilizes two measurements systems: the Carrier Safety Measurement System (CSMS) for trucking companies and the Driver Safety Measurement System (DSMS) for truck drivers.

Recent cases have held that shippers, brokers, and third-party logistics companies can be held liable for negligent selection, negligent hiring, or negligent entrustment if they do not exercise reasonable care in selecting a carrier. At a minimum, before hiring a motor carrier, shippers, brokers, and third-party logistics companies should access the CSA SMS to determine the safety rating of the carrier. See Schramm v. Foster, 341 F. Supp. 2d 336 (2004) and Jones v. CH Robinson Worldwide, Inc., 558 F. Supp. 2d 603 (2008).

Both the CSMS and the DSMS use on-road safety inspections and state-reported commercial motor vehicle crash records. This information is entered into the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS), and every month the safety rankings will be updated. The SMS will identify carriers with safety issues so that the appropriate inspections and interventions can be performed. Under the proposed Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rule, motor carriers will receive a rating of “unfit,” “marginal,” or “continue in operation.” The SMS identifies six behaviors that have been shown to increase the likelihood of commercial motor vehicle crashes.

  • Unsafe Driving (operation of commercial motor vehicles in a dangerous and careless manner). Examples of violations include speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, and inattention.
  • Fatigued Driving and Hours-of-Service Violations (operation of commercial motor vehicles by drivers who are ill, fatigued, or in noncompliance with hours-of-service regulations). This includes any violation of any regulation dealing with the accurate recording of log books. Instances related to fatigued driving are distinguished from incidents where unconsciousness or the inability to react is brought about by the use of alcohol, drugs, or other controlled substances. Examples of violations include hours-of-service violations, log book violations, and operating a commercial motor vehicle while ill or fatigued.
  • Unfitness of the Driver (operation of commercial motor vehicles by drivers who are unfit due to a lack of training, experience, or medical qualifications). Examples of violations include failing to have a valid and appropriate commercial driver’s license and being medically unqualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
  • Use of Controlled Substances/Alcohol (operation of commercial motor vehicles by drivers who are impaired due to alcohol, drugs, and misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications). Examples of violations include use or possession of controlled substances or alcohol.
  • Improper Vehicle Maintenance (failure to properly maintain a commercial motor vehicle). Examples of violations include defects in brakes, lights, or other mechanical equipment and failure to make required repairs.
  • Improper Handling of Cargo (failure to properly prevent shifting loads or spilled or dropped cargo and unsafe handling of hazardous materials on a commercial motor vehicle). Examples of violations include improper load securement, cargo retention, and hazardous material handling.

In addition to the evaluation of these behavioral characteristics, the SMS evaluates the actual crash history of each trucking company and each driver. The crash indicator determines the history or pattern of crash involvement as well as the frequency and severity of the crashes.

The CSA operational model features continuous monitoring of a trucking company’s safety performance and a driver’s safety performance. If a trucking company or a truck driver is found to have safety problems, the company or the driver will be subject to the intervention process. Intervention can be as simple as a warning letter identifying a specific safety deficiency and informing the carrier of the consequences of failing to take the necessary corrective action. The CSA also permits enforcement officers to spot check motor carriers based on their safety scores. A carrier with certain safety violations can be required to produce business records for an offsite inspection. Failure to respond to a request for business records can result in the issuance of a subpoena and an onsite inspection.

A focused or limited onsite inspection can be conducted when a safety score reveals two or fewer safety issues. However, a carrier with a long list of safety violations or involvement in a fatal crash may be subject to an onsite comprehensive investigation. These investigations may result in a voluntary cooperative safety plan designed to address the underlying problems. A carrier may receive a notice of violation (for violations not serious enough to warrant a fine) or a notice of claim (where the violations are severe enough to warrant a civil fine).

FMCSA: Preemployment Screening Program

The CSA dovetails nicely with the FMCSA’s new preemployment screening program (PSP). For a description of the program, click here. The PSP, a voluntary program available to all trucking companies at a minimal cost, allows motor carriers and drivers to purchase their driving records from the FMCSA’s MCMIS. The MCMIS will contain a five-year history of crash data and a three-year history of safety inspections. The FMCSA believes that making this information available to potential employers (trucking companies) will help the trucking companies make an informed decision before hiring a truck driver. It is important to note that an employer cannot access this data without the driver’s permission.

If you are an attorney representing a victim of a trucking accident, you will need to draft the appropriate discovery requests to determine if the motor carrier participated in the PSP program. If the carrier did not participate in the program and if a request for driver information from the PSP would have revealed a history of unsafe driving, the carrier’s failure to utilize the PSP program will support a separate claim against the trucking company for negligent hiring and/or negligent entrustment.

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