FMCSA examines vehicle safety and maintenance

13 October 2023

A new survey and study out by FMCSA plans to take a look at what improvements would enhance motor carrier safety by focusing on vehicle maintenance.

According to an official register notice published by FMCSA on September 1, the goal of the study is to determine what improvements, ranging from better compliance interventions to better vehicle maintenance requirements, would enhance motor carrier safety.

Photo: Daniel Prado

The agency pointed to a 2014 study conducted by the (USDOT) John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center which analyzed FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) and how it identified the highest-risk motor carriers targeted for interventions. The study ultimately revealed that motor carriers targeted for intervention due to vehicle maintenance violations had a 65 percent higher crash rate compared to the national average – based on federal and state inspections of components critical to the safe operation of the vehicle.

But a number of questions also emerged from the study. One involved a conclusion that described how proper and regular preventative maintenance – i.e., systematic programs among carriers – versus federal and state inspections, which are limited to mostly visible or safety-related components, should remain the standard. The question spotlights a regulatory stipulation that states every carrier must have a program to “… systematically inspect, repair and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.”

The problem, determined FMCSA, is with the word systematic, which they deemed subjective, and likely to vary from one carrier to the next. It was also determined that the lack of specificity in this regard – concerning standard intervals for preventative maintenance – makes it difficult for federal and state personnel to evaluate the effectiveness of and compliance with a carrier’s maintenance program. Further, it may make it difficult for carriers to ascertain and therefore comply with the regulation’s intent.

Minimum standards

Consequently, the new survey/study’s objectives include:

■ Developing an operational definition of “systematic maintenance.”

■ Evaluating whether current regulations and the intervention process could be modified to improve compliance with such vehicle maintenance requirements as preventative maintenance intervals, and preventative maintenance inspections with adequately trained mechanics and adequate maintenance facilities.

■ Gathering information to assist in establishing minimum standards for inspection intervals, mechanic qualifications and training and certification of maintenance facilities.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (under contract to FMCSA) will administer the study by using online surveys across two phases.

Phase I comprises a voluntary seven-question online recruitment survey that will screen carriers and verify their eligibility for Phase II participation. Phase II calls for a voluntary 108-question survey, and includes questions about demographics; maintenance practices, intervals, personnel and facilities; and state and federal inspections.

Phase II will also provide additional information about maintenance personnel and facilities, mechanic training levels, tools required for adequate inspection, certification of facilities and vehicle maintenance issues that may impact safety. The results, said FMCSA, will be documented in a technical report and published.

In a public statement, FMCSA maintained: “In addition, the results will be used to create a ‘recommended best practices’ report that will outline minimum standards for inspection intervals, mechanic qualifications and training and certification of maintenance facilities.”

The agency also indicated that, without such a data collection, both the truck and bus industry will continue to operate without a proper understanding of what a “systematic maintenance” program actually is. In turn, federal and state inspectors will struggle to evaluate the effectiveness of a carrier’s maintenance program or its compliance with this provision – resulting in added difficulty for carriers to comply with the regulation’s intent.


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