The National Academies of Science recommends changes to SMS

Posted on 06/30/2017 by David Radke

Compliance, Safety, Accountability carrier rating system will likely change in the next two years.

The National Academies of Science released a report Tuesday, June 27, regarding their analysis of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Safety Measurement System.

NAS concluded that the SMS is, at its core, effective in predicting the level of risk commercial motor vehicle carriers have. However, certain aspects of the FMCSA regulations concerned the academies, which advised FMCSA to explore a different, more statistics-based approach, called item response theory.

IRT has been successfully implemented in other areas of policy creation. It's been applied to hospitals to evaluate the quality of care given to patients, as well as schools to determine teacher performance, Commercial Carrier Journal reported. In essence, IRT has the same goal as SMS: to determine which providers are underperforming and in need of intervention.

Addressing much-discussed shortcomings

SMS is a subset of FMCSA's Compliance, Safety, Accountability carrier rating system, which was introduced in 2011. Since its introduction, CSA and SMS have both received a fair amount of criticism.

For example, the American Trucking Associations notes that an emphasis on individual evaluators' expertise and experience, rather than hard data, could weaken the results and cause CSA to favor certain carriers over others. ATA President and CEO Chris Spear stated in a press release his support of NAS's report.

"We appreciate the work the National Academies of Science has done in helping motor carriers, FMCSA and the general public learn about the limitations of CSA," Spear said. "This report has confirmed much of what we have said about the program for some time: The program, while a valuable enforcement tool, has significant shortcomings that must be addressed and we look forward to working with FMCSA to strengthen the program."

Changes to come

NAS recommends that FMCSA explore IRT and re-evaluate CSA and SMS over the next two years. If the administration finds that IRT is, in fact, effective, it should make policy changes based on it.

The academies also suggested that FMCSA also work closely with states and various agencies to strengthen their collection of data regarding miles traveled and crashes. These are two areas that NAS found to be particularly lacking, though these statistics can provide valuable insight into a carrier's safety.

Additionally, NAS notes that other information that currently isn't a focus could prove to be helpful, including turnover rates, method of compensation, as well as level of compensation, and the type of cargo transported.

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