Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Education and Outreach Programs Target Safety and Consumer Issues, but Gaps in Planning and Evaluation Remain

GAO-06-103: Published: Dec 19, 2005. Publicly Released: Dec 19, 2005.

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is responsible for improving commercial vehicle safety and uses education and outreach as part of its efforts. The House report accompanying the fiscal year 2005 Department of Transportation (DOT) appropriations bill asked GAO to report on FMCSA's education and outreach programs to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations. GAO (1) describes FMCSA's education and outreach programs and how they relate to FMCSA's goals (2) identifies the extent to which FMCSA has evaluated its education and outreach programs and (3) describes the extent to which FMCSA's education and outreach programs are effective.

FMCSA's education and outreach programs--New Entrant, Non-Entrant, Motor Coach, Safety Belt, and Household Goods' target different audiences, including the motor carrier industry, commercial vehicle drivers, and the public.Total funding for these programs in fiscal year 2005 was $36.3 million; the largest share (about $33 million) went to the New Entrant program, which is designed to inform newly registered motor carriers (new entrants) about motor carrier safety standards and regulations to help them gain compliance with FMCSA requirements. FMCSA uses many approaches, such as direct contact with carriers, media campaigns, distributing printed materials, and establishing Web sites to provide information to target audiences. FMCSA has not described how its education and outreach program activities link expected changes in attitudes and behavior to broader goals, such as DOT's strategic objective of reducing transportation-related fatalities. FMCSA officials state that the education and outreach activities and programs link to agency goals at a high level, but this was not evident from our review, with the exception of the Safety Belt program. FMCSA has used a logic model as a tool in other programs to show the relationship between program activities and broader goals. FMCSA has begun some evaluations of its education and outreach programs, and plans other evaluations of these programs. However, although FMCSA's New Entrant program has existed for over 2 years, FMCSA has no plans to evaluate its New Entrant program until 2008. Thus FMCSA has no information on whether information on its safety requirements, provided through the Education and Technical Assistance package or during New Entrant safety audits--targeted toward truckers newly entering the industry--effectively communicate information to new entrants. This lack of evaluation makes it difficult to determine the impact the education portion of the New Entrant program has on commercial motor vehicle safety. Since FMCSA currently has little information on how its programs have affected attitudes and behavior, it is difficult to determine the effectiveness of FMCSA's effort. However, the designs of two programs appear to follow theories and research regarding media campaigns, which are intended to influence decision making about safety. Research and behavior theory suggest that for some types of programs--such as DOT's Click It or Ticket program, which is designed to increase safety-belt use by passenger car drivers--enforcement linked to education can improve results, and FMCSA has indicated it is linking some education and outreach programs to enforcement efforts, where appropriate. Finally, motor carrier association officials whom we spoke with stated that, in their view, FMCSA is doing some positive things in its education and outreach activities. A public safety group stated that FMCSA followed reasonable approaches in starting its education and outreach efforts; however, they would like to see more information on program effectiveness to help FMCSA refine the programs.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation that the agency describe and document how education and outreach program activities link to and support broader program goals, FMCSA included discussion of how their education and outreach activities supported a number of programs in its FY 2009 performance budget in response to GAO. FMCSA also provided more detailed logic models to GAO on the education and outreach activities that support a number of their programs such as New and Non Entrants, Share the Road Safely and Safety Belt Usage Improvement.

    Recommendation: To better demonstrate how FMCSA education and outreach programs contribute to achieving agency goals, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FMCSA to ensure that the agency describes and documents how education and outreach program activities link to and support broader program and agency goals in a planning, program, or budget document that is available to the public.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Federal Motor Carrier Administration's (FMCSA) education and outreach programs include a New Entrant program that, among other things, informs newly-registered motor carriers about safety standards and regulations to help them comply with FMCSA requirements. The program includes an Education and Technical Assistance Package and "safety audits" to explain safety requirements and review new carriers' documentation. In 2005, we reported that FMCSA evaluated the performance of their program primarily by tracking the number of safety audits conducted of new motor carriers. We found that this approach provided FMCSA no information on whether information on its safety requirements was effectively communicated to new entrants. We concluded that the absence of a plan to evaluate how well new motor carriers understood the information provided to them and if the information raised awareness and helped promote safe behavior was a concern. Thus we recommended that FMCSA evaluate the extent to which the education program helped new carriers learn and understand FMCSA requirements. At the time, FMCSA responded that it was too early to evaluate the New Entrant program. In 2017, we confirmed that FMCSA contracted for and in 2015 received an evaluation of its training for New Entrants. This evaluation identified a positive impact on trained new entrances' crash performance and business survival as well as identified continuing improvements to FMCSA's curriculum. Thus, FMCSA knows how well its program impacts safety behavior and how to better design the program going forward, increasing safety on the roads.

    Recommendation: To better demonstrate how FMCSA education and outreach programs contribute to achieving agency goals, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator of FMCSA to evaluate the effectiveness of the education and outreach of the New Entrant program, assessing the extent to which the Education and Technical Assistance Package and safety audits are helping new carriers learn and understand FMCSA requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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