When it comes to the U.S. government, there’s one thing we can all – democrats and republicans alike – agree on: They’re really good at coming up with acronyms. OSHA, DOT, FMCSA – the letters and what they stand for are cemented into our minds like rebar in a foundation.
If you’ve been reading any transportation news at all lately, there’s likely another acronym you’ve been coming across quite regularly: FAST. FAST is shorthand for The FAST Act, which stands for the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act.
The FAST Act, which President Obama signed into law on December 4, 2015, is a five-year piece of legislation designed to improve the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure, including roads, bridges, transit systems, and rail transportation network. By authorizing $305 billion in funding between 2016 and 2020, the bill reforms and strengthens transportation programs, refocuses on national priorities, provides long-term certainty and more flexibility for states and local governments, streamlines project approval processes, and maintains a strong commitment to safety.
But like any massive 1,300-page federal document, the FAST Act contains an enormous amount of information and has left many people with a number of unanswered questions. So we thought we’d take this column to discuss a few of the biggest changes to come from the bill.
The FAST Act amends §31136 of Title 49 of the U.S. code, which is the statute that prescribes minimum safety standards for commercial motor vehicles, by adding a number of new subsections. These new subsections set additional parameters on FMCSA’s rule making procedures, requiring that regulatory impact analysis of a proposed or final rule consider the potential impacts to carriers of different characteristics, and formulate estimates and findings based upon the best available science. It further requires that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration use data from a sample that is truly representative of the industry.
So how is this favorable to commercial motor vehicle companies? Simple, it benefits the industry collectively by no longer putting everyone in the same box. Up until this point, all CMV’s were classed together, making it hard for some industries to remain in compliance while still being able to perform their daily tasks.
Furthermore, this has the potential to revolutionize the way proposed and final rulemaking is constructed in this new day and age. To date, our industry faces the challenge of having to present its case after a final rule has already been published by filing for an exemption to the rule, just as NBIS and SC&RA did for the 30-minute rest break exemption.
The crane industry is facing this same uphill battle trying to be awarded the same exemption for downtime during crane operations (or lack of operations), just as happened in the oil field industry. By using today’s technology to reach out to different areas of the industry we may be able to eliminate some of these challenges by addressing them during the regulatory impact analysis phase rather than after the fact.
Changes to the compliance, safety, accountability (CSA) program
Let’s face it: CSA, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicles, all have been the topic of conversation ever since the roll out in December of 2010. And with the FAST Act, it still is.
Essentially, there are four areas that The FAST Act specifically addresses regarding the CSA program. Because we at NBIS believe the bill will make a huge impact in these particular areas, I’ve outlined them for you here.
CSA efficiency study: The FAST Act directs FMCSA to conduct a comprehensive study to determine the efficiency of the overall CSA program. It appears that Congress is requiring this new study as a result of the report that came from the Government Accountability Office back in 2014. In its report, Congress deemed the principles behind the CSA program necessary; however, one discrepancy Congress noted was that some of the recorded violations were not measured or assessed in a way that gave enough information to accurately predict of crash risk. FMCSA responded to Congress by saying that SMS was never meant as a predictive model for accidents, but as a measure of behaviors that can contribute to an accident. It is apparent that Congress did not agree with FMCSA’s response, so it is back to the drawing board for CSA.
Public view of SMS scores: The FAST Act directs FMCSA to remove all public displays of scores from view until they get to conduct their new studies and implement the new practices found within the new studies. All this really means is that it will not be as easy for other to view your scores, though they can still view your violations, which are on display just as they have always been. Keep in mind, however, that all carriers still have access to, and can judge their scores off of, the old methodology – until a new methodology is in place, that is. This could actually become problematic if a carrier depends on a third party to help them monitor their scores and implement preventive measures. So definitely be aware.
Beyond compliance: The bill also calls for the creation of a “compliance” program. This is designed as a way to show positive reinforcement from the FMCSA and is reflected within the CSA SMS methodology for investments in safety, and an overall improvement of safety culture. Motor carriers that install advanced safety equipment, use enhanced driver fitness measures, adopt fleet safety management tools, technologies and programs, or satisfy other standards determined appropriate by the FMCSA will have the ability to earn recognition, including possible credits or an improved SMS percentiles. This will give carriers the ability to improve SMS scores in alternate ways beyond just time frame. This would be a positive benefit for companies to take those proactive measures that once may have seemed as just another added expense.
Crash Accountability: Once FMCSA completes the CSA studies required in The FAST Act, Congress has directed them to task the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) to address the crash accountability that can be found in the CSA methodology. The MCSAC has been instructed to investigate the treatment of preventable crashes and make recommendations on how motor carriers can request a determination from DOT on the preventability of a crash.
High-risk carrier reviews: The DOT is charged with ensuring carrier reviews are conducted on motor carriers that demonstrate a high risk for safety, particularly carriers that rank among the worst for four months or more. I see this as potentially problematic for our industry because we have companies who don’t see themselves as actual carriers. These companies – think crane companies that aren’t used to identifying themselves as carriers – are at high risk because they either refuse, or just plain forget, to acknowledge that they are in fact regulated under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). These carrier reviews will likely force their hand and make these types of companies aware of their duty to comply – whether they like it or not.
At the end of the day, 1,300 pages is too many pages to read, and I don’t think anyone really expects you to anyway. But you should definitely know what’s changed and what you’re now responsible for – and that’s just where we can help.
For more information on how The FAST Act or other FMCSA regulations impact your business, contact our transportation expert: Joseph Doerr. Doerr has extensive, hands-on experience in crane and rigging, heavy construction, and professional commercial vehicle operations.