Ask any trucking company – no matter their size – and they will tell you safety is their number one priority. Yet, still, there is no shortage of ways trucking companies can find themselves on the wrong end of the stick when it comes to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Whether it be through serious accidents, truck driver complaints, or roadside inspection violations, an FMCSA audit may be just around the corner.
Even worse, if you go through a bad audit, your trucking company could face serious consequences. Poor safety performance isn’t about a simple violation. You could also be facing a nuclear verdict should an accident occur on your watch. The problem is many fleets do not know or understand which safety metrics they should follow to always ensure safe operation. Fortunately, we’re here to clue you in!
Consider the key metrics used by the FMCSA, the plaintiff’s bar, and shippers and brokers. Many of the same metrics they use are publicly available for anyone to see. They often also offer detailed insight into why a motor carrier is compliant or not. Let’s have a closer look at what these metrics are.
What is Your Inspection Selection System Score?
Let’s first look at the FMCSA’s Inspection Selection System (ISS). This is the program used to by the agency and state partners to isolate which motor carriers will be stopped for a roadside inspection. The ISS also specifically outlines how frequently a fleet’s vehicles will be stopped for roadside inspections. So, how does a fleet manager measure ISS scores?
First, ISS scores are measured on a scale of 1 to 100. This score is influenced by a motor carrier’s safety performance. Fleets who perform poorly from a safety perspective will have a high ISS score. Conversely, trucking companies who perform well will have a low ISS score. As such, fleets with a score between 75 and 100 will find themselves on a mandatory inspection list. What does this mean? More inspections.
Fleets who have scores between 75 and 100 will be red flagged for law enforcement to stop and conduct roadside inspections. If a truck driver is operating a rig with a USDOT number flagged by the agency, they can expect to be targeted by law enforcement wherever possible. Keep in mind, this targeting will happen regardless of whether unlawful roadside behavior is observed or not.
Fleets with a score between 50 and 74 will find themselves in what is called the “optional” category, which leaves it up to law enforcement as to whether they will conduct a roadside inspection or not. Finally, trucking companies with a score between 1 and 49 are listed in a “pass” category, which means law enforcement does not need to inspect these truck drivers unless they physically see bad behavior.
Why Are ISS Scores So Important?
Since ISS scores govern the frequency by which motor carriers are inspected, they can have an outsized impact on how productive they are. And with so many fleets struggling in a supply chain crisis, every moment of lost productivity is a major problem.
Truck drivers and fleet managers must make sure they regularly check their ISS scores and take concrete efforts to improve them. Want to know where to look to get more information on your ISS score? Simply head on over to the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) portal.
There is a reason why your scores are housed there, as ISS scores are tied closely to a carrier’s SMS scores. Fleets can improve both scores by ensuring compliant roadside performance. The key is to ensure you get as few roadside inspection violations as possible. Check out the FMCSA’s ISS algorithm description for more information on how they come to the scores they do. The next metric you want to pay close attention to is the accident rate.
What is Your Accident Rate?
Accident rate recording is an FMCSA requirement. The accident rate is expressed as the number of DOT-recordable accidents the motor carrier has incurred per every million miles they travel. The accident rate is important because it is one of the top factors evaluated in an ISS score. They use the accident rate, along with the number of violations incurred, to come up with a carrier’s safety rating.
According to recent data, the industry average accident rate for most fleets is 0.74 accidents per every million miles traveled. The FMCSA states that a non-urban fleet with more than 1.5 accidents per every million miles and every urban fleet with 1.7 accidents per million miles over a one-year period will fail the accident check portion of an audit. This could result in an immediate downgrade in the fleet’s safety rating.
Now the question is: How is the accident rate calculated? To calculate a motor carrier’s accident rate, the FMCSA compares the DOT-recordable accidents reported on the carrier’s accident register over the last 12-month period with the number of miles the fleet has traveled over that same period. Miles traveled should always be listed on a trucking company’s biennial MCS-150 filing.
How Do You Improve Your Accident Rate?
Let’s have a look at accident rate examples. If a trucking company has four recordable accidents in 2019 and traveled a total of 2 million miles, then it would be looking at an accident rate of two accidents per every million miles. As a result, this motor carrier would fail the accident rate portion of the audit, had they been selected for one.
So, how do motor carriers improve their accident rate? The answer may seem like a simple one, but there are actually two ways a fleet can accomplish this. One, they increase their mileage or two, they decrease their accident frequency. This sounds easy, but are there any best practices to help fleets accomplish these goals? Of course!
First, fleet managers need to familiarize themselves with the FMCSA’s Crash Preventability Demonstration Program. Under this program, if you have an eligible crash that occurred on or after August 1, 2019, you may submit a Request for Data Review (RDR) with the required police accident report and other supporting documents, photos, or videos through the Agency’s DataQs website.
Trucking companies have the option to petition the FMCSA to remove any accidents from their account that were non-preventable crashes. In staying on top of what accidents appear in the database, trucking companies can improve their accident rate and ensure they are not penalized for something they shouldn’t be penalized for.
How Are Your OOS and SMS Rates?
Another important metric will be your Out-Of-Service (OOS) rates. These rates are publicly available and indicate how often a fleet’s vehicles or truck drivers are places OOS. Motor carriers can view their rates by visiting their SAFER company snapshot on this FMCSA website. The SAFER system will show a trucking company’s OOS rates compared with others in the same sector. The best way to improve your OOS rates is to prevent significant roadside violations from occurring.
Next, take a close look at your SMS scores. SMS scores have been around since 2010, so fleets should have no excuse for a lack of understanding. The SMS is one of the pillars of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) system. CSA, in turn, ranks trucking companies against each other using scores classified under a system called BASIC.
Trucking companies who perform worse than their peers based on industry averages are flagged within the system for potential inspections. It is important to remember that bad SMS scores can lead to not only accidents but also higher insurance premiums, reputation erosion, and loss of business. Fleets need to make sure they are of what impacts their scores. Visit the FMCSA’s SMS Methodology site to get more information on how they calculate the scores. SMS scores contribute to your audit prioritization. Keep them front of mind.
What is Your Safety Fitness Determination?
A trucking company’s safety fitness determination – or safety rating – represents their compliance with the FMCSA’s published safety fitness standards. The most important thing is ensuring you have proper safety management controls in place. The FMCSA only issues safety ratings to trucking companies that have gone through an on- or off-site review.
Your safety rating in the following ways:
A satisfactory rating is the highest rating an operator can get. A conditional rating means the carrier lacks adequate safety controls. An unsatisfactory rating will result in the carrier receiving an operational out-of-service order and a complete shuttering of their fleet. This is the worst possible outcome.
The fact is, we live in an age where trucking companies face heavy scrutiny. So, there really is no excuse for trucking companies to not pay attention to these metrics. Not only do they play a role in how profitable you are, but they also play a role in how your fleet is viewed by the public and by law enforcement. Monitor them to shape the narrative.