The full impact of new safety regulations for trucking in the US introduced by the Department of Transport’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) are still being assessed, but there are clear signs from leading carriers that demonstrating high results is likely to work to their advantage in tenders with customers. However, while there are substantial efforts to clear up confusion amongst the driver workforce about what the regulations mean for them, many appear to fear that the regulations could cost them their jobs.
The regulations brought in under the original Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 programme, which came into effect in December last year, are designed to improve large truck and bus safety. They have brought in a new enforcement and compliance model that allows FMCSA and its state partners to contact a larger number of carriers more frequently to address safety problems based on an automated Safety Measurement System to quantify motor carrier on-road safety performance.
Under the regulations, all carriers, and eventually all drivers, with sufficient safety data available, receive a safety rating that is periodically updated. The SMS results are displayed on the SMS website.
Meeting the demands under these new guidelines has not been a problem according to Ryder, one of the largest logistics providers operating in North America.
“We were already in compliance prior to the issuance of these rules. In fact, our internal processes and procedures surpass the requirements of the regulations,” said Jim Moore, Ryder’s vice president of Solutions and Execution Standards. “I don’t think we’ve had to adapt too much because we had a very intensive safety reporting campaign internally anyway.”
This is also the case at Schneider National, but as Don Osterberg, senior vice president, Safety, Security and Driver Training, made clear: “Anytime you have a new programme like that it drives additional focus [and] we have stepped up our focus in some of these areas.”
Osterberg said that the regulations have provided the company with a much more granular way of monitoring driver performance.
“We can see which drivers have accrued the most points and, as a result of that, we’ve introduced intervention thresholds as part of our management process,” he told Automotive Logistics. “We put our drivers through risk assessments but this has added a number of additional variables to our assessment tools that in my opinion have made them far more robust.”
While both companies maintain high standards, noticeable improvements have been seen in post-delivery inspection, which falls under one of the CSA’s main categories of Vehicle Maintenance*. According to Hank Pressley, director of Field Solutions for Safety, Health & Security at Ryder System, drivers are now more aware that regular inspection means that standards in this area have to be stringently maintained.
The new standards are good for maintaining safety standards amongst Ryder’s licensed firms, added Pressley, adding that for smaller carriers that may have suffered from less stringent standards in the past, the enforcement of the new SMS means they will now benefit from a better quality of labour from which to recruit.
Osterberg agreed: “I believe at the end of the day CSA will indeed drive a number of bad drivers out of the industry; that’s a good thing in my view.”
Figures for May this year from the Department of Transport show that the FMCSA and its state and local law enforcement partners conducted more than 3,000 surprise passenger carrier safety inspections over a two-week period that resulted in 442 unsafe buses or drivers being removed from the nation's roadways.
Driver misunderstanding
However, the threat of such dismissal, and even recruitment in the first place, has been a source of confusion for drivers during the rollout of the new regulations.
While the regulations don’t change the requirements needed to become a driver they make it easier for anyone to examine their performance records. But a recent survey conducted by the American Transport Research Institute, involving 4,500 truck drivers, found that nearly two-thirds expressed some (32.5%) or extreme (32%) concern that they would personally be terminated as a result of CSA. This worry may stem from claims in the industry that CSA would result in the elimination of roughly 10-20% of the national driver pool.
Furthermore, almost 80% of drivers surveyed stated that the programme would not reduce the number of truck-involved crashes.
Speaking for the wider industry Osterberg said that it needed to educate drivers so that they understood the details better than they do currently.
“I like to think that our drivers have benefited from the considerable effort that we have put in to this already,” he said. “My guess is that if they segmented the results they would see that there are some carriers that have effectively trained their driver associates and others who haven’t.”
Where the regulations do need attention in terms of unfair results that can be levied against both driver and carrier is in the crash score ratings. Currently a commercial driver and carrier can sustain points against them irrespective of whether a driver was to blame for a crash. Osterberg outlined a recent example of someone that had decided to commit suicide by jumping in front of a truck. While the FMCSA was lenient in not publishing the point accrued by the incident it remains what Osterberg described as “fundamentally unfair”.
Good results mean more business
But where the CSA regulations do offer an advantage is that companies with test scores are able to attract more business from customers; something from which both Ryder and Schneider National have already benefited.
According to Jim Moore, a major shipper with access to this data has the ability to make a better selection for carriers that are safe.
“What it has done has made us aware that we are the safest, large commercial carrier and we’ve turned that into a marketing advantage,” said Moore. “We are marketing our safety record in the transport environment.”
“The informed shippers are now saying ‘we have to tender freight to carriers with favourable CSA scores,” added Osterberg. “This is becoming a consideration or variable in the shippers decision making and I do think that carriers with good scores can not only track more business…I think drivers that are committed to being safe and running legal will want to move to carriers that have demonstrated that they will not ask a driver to do things that they shouldn’t do.”
The FMCSA has just released a draft strategic plan for 2011-2016, entitled FMCSA 2011-2016 Strategic Plan: Raising the Safety Bar. Further details will available in the next edition of Automotive Logistics magazine.
* The seven categories targeted under the new regulations are: Unsafe Driving, Fatigued Driving (Hours-of-Service), Driver Fitness, Controlled Substances/Alcohol, Vehicle Maintenance, Cargo-Related, and Crash Indicator.