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  • Henry Seaton

Comment period on safety fitness plan extended

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has extended for 60 days until May 23, 2016, the comment period on a proposed rule that would change how the agency rates motor carriers for safety. FMCSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on Jan. 21, 2016. Several organizations had sought extensions, saying they needed more time.

FMCSA has drawn criticism from a number of organizations for moving forward with the carrier safety fitness determination (SFD) NPRM because it relies so heavily on elements of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program and the Safety Measurement System (SMS). In the FAST Act, Congress had ordered a review of SMS. Indeed, complaints about the NPRM came even before the agency announced it.

In a confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee, acting FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling defended his agency's decision to issue the NPRM, saying that the FAST Act barred only use of SMS alerts or relative percentiles.

In response, the same group of associations that initially objected to the NPRM, elaborated on their arguments in a letter to Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Nebraska). They argued, among other things, that the provision FMCSA argues allowed it to issue the NPRM actually says that information regarding alerts and relative percentiles could not be used for safety fitness determinations. That would, they said, prohibit the "failure standards" that would be used for data-only reviews because those standards are values calculated using relative percentiles.

Opposition to the SFD NPRM goes beyond those 10 organizations, however. In a March 7 letter to leaders of the appropriations committees in the House and Senate, 35 organizations – including at least three that had sought an extension of the comment period – representing primarily trucking and motorcoach operations objected to an SFD methodology based so heavily on SMS.

"While we support the goal of an easily understandable, rational safety fitness determination system, this proposal is built on a flawed foundation," the 35 groups told congressional leaders. They recommended that Congress include in the next Department of Transportation appropriations bill language that would block the funds that FMCSA would need to move forward with the regulation.

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