Commercial Motor Carriers:

DOT Is Shifting to Performance-Based Standards to Assess Whether Carriers Operate Safely

RCED-98-8: Published: Nov 3, 1997. Publicly Released: Dec 3, 1997.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined the efficiency and effectiveness of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Motor Carriers' commercial motor vehicle safety programs, focusing on the efforts by the Office and the states to: (1) reduce serious accidents by conducting roadside inspections and compliance reviews; (2) better target motor carriers for compliance reviews; and (3) improve the compliance review criteria for assessing and rating a carrier's safety fitness.

GAO noted that: (1) federal, state, and industry officials told GAO that federal and state initiatives to improve the safety of commercial vehicles and actions taken by trucking firms to improve the safety of their trucks and drivers were the most important factors behind the 42-percent reduction in the fatal accident rate for large trucks from 1983 to 1995; (2) effective in fiscal year (FY) 1998, the Office revised the criteria for awarding funding from the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program to provide each state with more flexibility in choosing the combination of programs--including roadside inspections and compliance reviews--that would best reduce accidents involving commercial vehicles; (3) in April 1997, consistent with the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, the Office began using performance-based data through its Safety Status Measurement System to identify carriers with the worst highway safety records; (4) while many states have improved the completeness and timeliness of their data submissions in recent years, the Office found that: (a) the states, overall, reported only about 74 percent of the recordable accidents in 1995; and (b) during FY 1997, five states submitted accident data more than 6 months, on average, after the accidents occurred; (5) without these data, the Office and the states cannot effectively target their limited compliance review resources on the motor carriers with safety problems; (6) the Office is in the early stages of revising its criteria for assessing and rating a commercial motor carrier's safety fitness; (7) the Office rates carriers on the basis of compliance reviews that examine a carrier's: (a) compliance with federal motor carrier safety regulations (primarily those related to financial responsibility, drivers' qualifications and operations, including hours-of-service, vehicle inspection and maintenance, and any hazardous materials handling); and (b) recordable, preventable accident rate; (8) while compliance reviews will continue to be an important element of the federal motor carrier safety program, the Office plans to publish an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to solicit public comments on alternatives for rating motor carriers' safety fitness; and (9) one option under consideration is to rely on accident date, roadside inspections, and other performance-based data for safety fitness ratings.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the safety fitness ratings of commercial motor carriers accurately reflect their on-the-road performance, the Secretary of Transportation should identify the barriers that prevent the states from providing complete and timely data and work with the states to develop a strategy for addressing each barrier.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: To better ensure that the safety fitness ratings of commercial motor carriers accurately reflect their on-the-road performance, the Secretary of Transportation should develop alternative approaches to the Safety Status Measurement System (SafeStat), such as consulting with state and local law enforcement officials to identify problem motor carriers, in the states that have inadequate data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

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