Pre-trip and post-trip inspections and vehicle maintenance logs have always been the best way to keep a fleet in fighting shape.

Back to the BASICs: FMCSA Gets Serious about Safety on the Road

FMCSA is providing added reason to tackle these problems before they appear: Drivers will be cited if an inspection turns up any safety violations.

Transportation safety affects many people -– not just the person behind the wheel of a cargo truck. From the fleets that employ drivers to the corporations that contract the fleets to the people who happen to be on the same road as these drivers, unsafe equipment and behaviors can have a large, dangerous ripple effect.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recognizes the breadth of this issue; the standards it introduced in 2010 are working their way into the world of fleet owners, managers, and drivers. It's worth paying attention to what they mean and how to stay on top of them.

One tool FMCSA has introduced is its Safety Measurement System (SMS) website (http://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms/). Especially when used along with an electronic onboard recorder (EOBR) solution, the new SMS website will help fleet managers catch safety violations and address them before they become bigger problems.

Part of FMCSA's SMS system is increased monitoring in seven safety improvement categories, called BASICs (Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories):

  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Unsafe driving
  • Crash indicator
  • Fatigued driving (hours of service)
  • Driver fitness
  • Controlled substances/alcohol
  • Cargo-related

Let's take a closer look at the BASICs and what can be done to stay in line with the FMCSA:

  • Vehicle maintenance: Keeping a truck from being tagged "out of service" means more time on the road and less time keeping the rest of the distribution chain waiting on repairs. FMCSA is providing added reason to tackle these problems before they appear: Drivers will be cited if an inspection turns up any safety violations. Staying one step ahead of maintenance problems and the FMCSA is the best way to avoid downtime and the problems that come along with alerts on a Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) score. Thorough pre-trip and post-trip inspections and vehicle maintenance logs have always been the best way to keep a fleet in fighting shape, and vehicle maintenance software solutions can make it easier than ever to keep track of trip inspections and make sure maintenance issues aren’t developing into bigger problems that will attract the attention of FMCSA.
  • Unsafe driving: Because FMCSA rankings are part of a carrier's public safety ranking, they may play a role if a crash victim tries to show a pattern of unsafe driving by a specific carrier. FMCSA defines unsafe driving as "the operation of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) by drivers in a dangerous or careless manner," which basically covers any law, ordinance, or regulation (including rules governing the transport of hazardous materials) in any area where the driver is located. Unsafe driving might seem like something that can only be seen after the fact, but proactively monitoring a driver's speed using an EOBR, for instance, and posting the results in the company breakroom can be an effective way to decrease dangerous habits.
  • Crash indicator: While not publicly available, firms are able to see their crash scores with their CSA login from FMCSA. Crash history is a consequence of a behavior and may indicate a problem with the carrier that warrants intervention. It is based on information from state-reported crashes and identifies histories or patterns of high crash involvement, including frequency and severity. Crashes are the ultimate reason for CSA, and eliminating accidents is critical to all safety programs. If an accident does occur, an EOBR can be used for black box analysis to understand what happened and how to prevent it in the future.
  • Fatigued driving (hours of service): Being alert while operating a rig is one of the leading safety issues in the trucking industry. FMCSA has put new rules in place to encourage more rest time on the road, longer periods of time between restarts, and revised rules defining on-duty and off-duty times. Today, a driver can drive for 11 hours a day, be on duty for 14 hours, and then must take a 10-hour break. Driver logs are used to prove compliance to current HOS rules. However, many fleets have found that their CSA scores rise based on decreased communication between dispatcher and driver, as well as general form and factor errors on paper logs. By utilizing an EOBR, dispatchers can easily understand how many hours a driver has left, and paperwork errors are virtually eliminated. This also makes life easier for the driver, reducing paperwork and keeping them focused on the road.
  • Driver fitness: Driver fitness doesn't necessarily mean how many squats and push-ups a driver can do. Rather, it means anything that makes a driver unfit to operate a CMV. This could include operating with an expired or suspended license, not having the right training or certifications for the load, and out-of-date medical qualifications. Drivers are responsible for making sure their CDL and medical certificates are current. A couple of tactics I recommend to drivers include setting an alarm or calendar item on their smartphones to remind them of expiring licenses or certificates and, if they're on the road for days at a time, to make sure someone they trust is keeping an eye on their important mail at home.
  • Controlled substances/alcohol: Laws banning driving while intoxicated (DWI) or driving under the influence (DUI) have been in place for a long time, and the national limit for blood-alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent. But for CMV drivers, that limit is an even more stringent 0.02 percent for alcohol and zero tolerance for controlled substances. The consequences of violations are severe. Motor carriers are responsible for making their employees aware of the rules and rehabilitation opportunities around controlled substances and alcohol. If a driver violates these rules, the resulting violation will stay on the carrier's SMS record. Controlled substances/alcohol violations are relatively rare; however, if your firm has even one, expect to quickly move to over threshold status.
  • Cargo-related: Time is money when a truck is being loaded, so the temptation to cut corners is strong. But it's never a good idea to take shortcuts when carrying cargo. The Cargo-related BASIC tracks any violations that are identified during a roadside inspection or any other traffic stop. The best way to avoid violations is to educate drivers, who have to verify that a load has been secured (whether or not they secure it themselves), to check periodically during transport to ensure the load hasn't shifted or tie-downs haven't been compromised. Motor carriers can help drivers navigate the many complicated requirements for cargo securement by providing cheat-sheets that help summarize the important rules. It's also a good idea to connect young drivers with a mentor driver they can call if they have questions about cargo securement. Drivers may be more inclined to talk to another driver than a company compliance official. While the data in this BASIC is not public, it's still critical to secure loads. Data from this BASIC will be used in upcoming changes to the CSA SMS system.
  • With seven different BASICs -– each one detailed enough and important enough to write a book on it -– it can seem like an overwhelming amount of information to keep straight. Knowledge is power, so invest the time to review the FMCSA's SMS website, take stock of the tools and technologies in place to proactively monitor these categories, and explore ways to educate drivers before violations start to rack up.

    This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

    About the Author

    Ryan Barnett is the director of market development at Xata Corporation (www.xata.com), a leader in fleet optimization software and EOBR solutions.

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