The FMCSA is Changing How it Identifies Carriers that it Deems Unsafe

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently made plans to revise how it evaluates trucking company safety. This will be completed through upgrades of the current ranking model instead of the installation of a new one. This ranking system is established in order to reduce and prevent major crashes on the road. 

The previous system was known as the Item Response Theory (IRT), which is an advanced statistical model, which was recently labeled as too complex by the National Academy of Sciences. Instead of the IRT, the agency is creating a Safety Management System (SMS). This system will be how carriers will be labeled, with the crash risk and carriers not fit to operate. These changes are coming from pressure by Congress, looking to improve the carrier safety fitness, which has been a part of the FAST Act of 2015. 

The FMCSA is Changing How it Identifies Carriers that it Deems Unsafe

The FMCSA has highlighted the areas the SMS could improve in identifying the high-risk carriers, without complications in adopting the IRT model. The areas for improvement are as follows: 

  • Organizing safety categories, including a new segmentation
  • Consolidating violation
  • Simplifying the violation for severity weights
  • The creation of proportionate percentiles as opposed to safety event groups
  • Improving intervention thresholds
  • Refocus of violation
  • Updated utilization factors

With the outlined changes, the FMCSA will be reorganizing the SMS Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC) to identify specific safety problems. They will be using BASIC to identify the specific safety problems, and to lower the 959 violations previously used in SMS. This will be done by combining these violations into 116 violation groups. An example of this would be in Driver Fitness BASIC, the carriers operating straight trucks have a higher chance for violations than those operating combination vehicles. Because of the higher rate of violation, by categorizing Driver Fitness BASIC into Straight and Combination categories, FMCSA is able to identify carriers with higher crash rates in both categories. 

Furthermore, the FMCSA noted the assigning of severity rates to violations on a scale of one to ten has been thoroughly criticized. They believe simplifying the severity weights identifies carriers with higher crash rates. They plan on focusing the violations to be severe enough to conclude in an out of service order, which will remove any subjectivity. They will however continue to use the scale to determine the severity of the violation on a scale 1 through 10. 

Two big rigs semi trucks in blue tone and different models with trailerd driving side by side

The FMCSA plans to focus on recent violations when they are prioritizing characters for roadside inspections. If a carrier’s violations within a safety category are twelve months or older, it will not be assigned a percentile within that given category. FMCSA believes this change will result in 1,081 carriers no longer having a safety category at the threshold. By taking the carriers without recent violations out of the safety categories, the agency is able to focus on the carriers more likely to pose a threat. 

The FMCSA also established a new website, known as the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA). This website is a part of the first phase in the updates of the SMS. Individuals are able to visit the website now in order to preview how their data would work under the proposed changes. 

One change being considered is the attempt to account for differences in inspection and violation rates amongst the states. This would lead to unfair SMS results for carriers that are driving in high-enforcement states. This could result in issues in certain states and could disincentive FMCSA from undertaking enforcement initiatives. 

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is opposed to the changes the FMCSA is proposing. They point out the majority of the data collected and analyzed has no connection to crashes. They should instead turn to highway safety with Large Truck Safety Causal factors. 

Federal Docket Management System

The proposed changes to the SMS may be found in the Federal Register notice. Any feedback may be submitted to the Federal Docket Management System, which is due within the 90 day comment period of February 15 to May 16. The FMCSA will also hold four public online question and answer webinars as well. 


The FMCSA is providing a 90-day comment period on the proposed changes, which are due on May 16. There are a number of changes that the FMCSA aims to help improve the Safety Management System. There are ultimately seven areas that the FMCSA is focusing on to identify high-risk carriers without complications to the IRT model. If you have any sort of transportation needs within the near future, head to SAC to have those needs addressed.