FMCSA Explains Use of Crash Preventability in Hazmat Safety Ratings

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published a notice of its enforcement policy on Tuesday that does not set a new course but does tell motor carriers how FMCSA will weigh their evidence of crash preventability. According to 49 CFR Part 385.407, FMCSA is not allowed to issue a hazardous materials safety permit to a motor carrier that has a crash rate, driver, vehicle, or hazardous material out-of-service rate in the top 30 percent of the national average. FMCSA's policy is that it will consider preventability when a carrier contests the denial of a safety permit "and presents compelling evidence that one or more of the crashes listed in the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) was not preventable and thus not reflective of the motor carrier's suitability to transport the type and quantity of hazardous materials that require a safety permit," the notice states.

The document explains preventability is determined by this standard: "If a driver who exercises normal judgment and foresight could have foreseen the possibility of the accident that in fact occurred, and avoided it by taking steps within his/her control which would not have risked causing another kind of mishap, the accident was preventable."

The safety permit program was set up by a June 30, 2004, FMCSA final rule that identified who must hold a permit and established the application process for a permit. Section 385.407 requires that a carrier have a "Satisfactory" safety rating, certify that it has a satisfactory security program, and be properly registered with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The threshold crash rate above which a carrier falls within the worst-performing 30 percent of the national average is recalculated every two years using the crash data from the previous two years. The cut-off for motor carrier crash rates above which a carrier will fall into the top 30 percent of the national average has remained at 0.125 since the inception of the program. (FMCSA divides the number of crashes for the previous 12-month period by the total number of power units the carrier operated; for example, if a carrier had two crashes and 10 power units, the crash rate would be 0.20.)

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