More crashes eligible for at-fault review under expansion of FMCSA program

FMCSA crash accountability

According to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, traffic fatalities in 2019 declined in all categories, with 36,120 people dying on the roadways, down 1.2% from 2018. However, the agency reported that crashes involving at least one large truck increased 1%. However, the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which collects this data, includes large pickups in this category, so it’s unclear at this point whether tractor-trailer related fatalities increased.

Speaking at a Congressional hearing in June 2019, American Trucking Associations President & CEO Chris Spear said there had been a 69% decline in large trucks involved in fatal crashes from 1980-2017, and in 2017, 71% of all multiple-vehicle crashes involving a large truck had no truck-driver related factors recorded.

“According to a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) report, 70% of fatal crashes involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle are initiated by the actions of, or are the fault of, passenger motorists,” Spear said.

For years, the industry pushed for crash accountability, feeling that truck drivers were being blamed for incidents that were not their fault. In 2017, FMCSA finally heeded the industry call and launched a demonstration program designed to allow carriers to request review of at-fault accidents. Following the pilot, the process was streamlined and a more formal program, the Crash Preventability Determination Program (CPDP), officially launched in August 2019. FMCSA has now announced additional incident types are eligible for review.

“Obviously the agency wants the accidents in question to be fair and impartial, and the reality is that just because an accident may fall into one of these categories doesn’t necessarily make it non-preventable,” David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, said.

Carriers can submit a Request for Data Review (RDR) to request an incident be reviewed, and FMCSA will use the submitted information, which should include the police report and could include photos or other supporting documentation, and make a determination as to who was at fault.

“In a nutshell, no two accidents are the same and there are defining factors in each and every one,” Heller added.

Once a determination that the crash was not preventable is made, FMCSA modifies the Safety Measurement System to reflect the updated determination and notes the not preventable determination in the Pre-Employment Screening Program. 

Heller said the expansion is an example of FMCSA trying to be as “accurate as possible when measuring the safety performance of the fleets.”

“Remember, the preventability determination is also part of the overall CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability) program,” he said. “If an accident in question is determined to be non-preventable, it is then accounted for in the Safety Measurement System, as it should be. We, as an industry, should never be afraid to have our safety fitness measured; however, we should insist that the measurement in question is done accurately and this program helps to do exactly that.”

When FMCSA first announced the program would be permanent, then-FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez noted the reliance on data.

“Data drives our agency’s decisions, and the information we’ve received and analyzed during the demonstration project informed our action today to expand and improve the crash preventability program,” he said. “We’ve listened to carriers, drivers and other commercial motor vehicle stakeholders throughout each step of this process, and strongly encourage all interested parties to submit comments on our proposed changes.” 

The new accident types eligible for review are:

  • When the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is struck by a vehicle that did not stop or slow in traffic, or that failed to stop at a traffic control device
  • When the CMV is struck by a motorist who falls asleep, has a medical issue, or is distracted
  • When the CMV is involved in a crash that seldom occurs, such as being struck by a deceased driver, by an airplane, or some other unusual situation

These join the other situations that are reviewable. They are:

  • When the CMV is struck in the rear or on the side at the rear
  • When the CMV is struck by a motorist driving in the wrong direction or while making a U-turn or other illegal turn
  • When the CMV is legally stopped or parked
  • When the CMV is struck by a motorist driving under the influence
  • When the CMV is struck by cargo, equipment or debris
  • When the CMV strikes an animal
  • When the CMV is struck by an individual committing or attempting to commit suicide

During the pilot program, which ran from Aug. 1, 2017, through May 31, 2019, and included only the original accident types, individual carriers submitted 12,249 RDRs to FMCSA. Of those, 56% were confirmed as one of the eight original crash types eligible for evaluation, including those where a truck was rear-ended, struck by a motorist traveling in the opposite direction, or struck by a motorist under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Approximately 93% of the eligible RDRs were found to be not preventable crashes by the motor carrier, the agency said.

Trucking companies with the largest number of crashes found to be not preventable include large carriers such as FedEx Freight (NYSE: FDX), J.B. Hunt (NASDAQ: JBHT), Schneider National (NYSE: SNDR), Knight-Swift (NYSE: KNX) and Werner Enterprises (NASDAQ: WERN).

FMCSA pointed out that small carriers that had not preventable crashes removed through the demonstration program have the largest reductions in their crash indicator percentiles. “However, most of the small carrier population did not participate,” the agency stated. “To improve representation, small carriers could be encouraged to participate in the agency’s future program.”