FMCSA proposes revamp to Safety Management System

11 April 2023

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) plans to change the way it evaluates trucking company safety by upgrading its current ranking model, as opposed to installing a new one. The agency announced in mid-February that it had determined that an advanced statistical model known as Item Response Theory (IRT) – touted by the National Academy of Sciences – was too complex, and would not be used to regulate carrier safety.

Instead, FMCSA will improve its own Safety Management System (SMS) as the way it labels carriers with the highest crash risk and those not fit to operate. Additionally, the agency has launched a preview site that allows carriers to log in and see their carrier profile with the proposed SMS changes.

FMCSA Associate Policy Administrator Larry Minor covered this topic at the recent SC&RA Specialized Transportation Symposium in Orlando, FL, noting that, “… the current system hasn’t changed in well more than twenty years.”

Better identification

After changes were called for in the FAST Act of 2015, FMCSA has seen pressure from Congress to improve how it evaluates carrier safety fitness – with the goal of reducing crashes. That pressure was increased by the USDOT’s Office of Inspector General in 2019 when it called for FMCSA to expedite improvements.

When testing an IRT model, FMCSA found “many limitations and practical challenges,” concluding that IRT modeling doesn’t perform well in identifying carriers for safety interventions. Instead, the agency found that certain areas of the SMS “could be improved to better identify high-risk carriers for intervention, without the complications inherent in adopting an IRT model.”

As part of those changes, FMCSA proposes to reorganize the current Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), which will be renamed “safety categories,” to better identify specific problems. FMCSA proposes to combine the current 959 violations used in SMS, plus 14 additional violations not currently used in SMS, into 116 new violation groups.

A summary of the proposed improvements to the SMS include: reorganized and updated safety categories – including new segmentation; consolidated violations; simplified violation severity weights; proportionate percentiles instead of safety event groups; improved intervention thresholds; greater focus on recent violations; and updated utilization factor.

FMCSA is moving the Controlled Substances/Alcohol and Operating while Out-of-Service (OOS) violations into the Unsafe Driving category to help focus their investigative resources on carriers with higher crash rates. The agency is also splitting the Vehicle Maintenance category in two – Vehicle Maintenance: Driver Observed and Vehicle Maintenance. The new “Driver Observed” category will be reserved for roadside-observed “violations that could reasonably be observed by a driver” during a pre- or post-trip inspection, “or detected as part of a Walk-Around (Level 2) roadside inspection.”

In the Driver Fitness BASIC, FMCSA discovered carriers that operate straight trucks, as opposed to combination tractor-trailers, have much higher violation rates. Therefore, the agency stated, “segmenting the Driver Fitness BASIC into Straight and Combination segments more effectively identifies carriers with higher crash rates in both segments.”

Proposed changes include a dramatic simplification of violation severity weights, currently assessed on a 1-10 scale (with 10 the most safety-negative); changes designed to eliminate percentile-ranking jumps that occur when carriers move into a new safety event group – an issue for small carriers; and adjusting safety categories’ intervention threshold – the percentile ranking at which a carrier is prioritized for investigation or other follow-on agency/state action. According to the agency, “this change would maintain the safety focus on those violations severe enough to result in an [out-of-service] order while removing the subjectivity and complications of distinguishing each violation by severity on a scale of 1 through 10.”

FMCSA is providing a 90-day comment period on the proposal, due by May 16. The agency is also conducting four public online Q&A webinars. Registration can be found at


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