U.S. Safety Measurement System data flawed: report

WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine is calling on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to replace the Safety Measurement System (SMS) – used to determine which carriers are at a high risk of future crashes.

The report cites several problems with data quality, but also says that the system is “conceptually sound”.

“Over the next two years, FMCSA should develop a more statistically principled approach for the task, based on an item response theory (IRT) model — an approach that has been applied successfully in informing policy decisions in other areas such as hospital rankings,” the academy says. “If the model is then demonstrated to perform well in identifying motor carriers that need interventions, FMCSA should use it to replace SMS.”

The FMCSA was forced by earlier legislation to remove carrier crash indicators and Hazardous Materials Compliance Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) from a public website. But carrier BASICS relating to crash data, investigation results, and measures remain. Measures are generated directly from safety data and not based on comparisons to other motor carriers, the FMCSA says.

“FMCSA should continue to collaborate with states and other agencies to improve the collection of data on vehicle miles traveled and on crashes, data which are often missing and of unsatisfactory quality,” the academy adds. “Including vehicle miles traveled data by state and month will enable SMS to account for varied environments where carriers travel — for example, in icy winter weather in the north. In addition, there is information available in police narratives not represented in the data used that could be helpful in understanding the contributing factors in a crash.”

The report also calls for the FMCSA to work with states on new ways to collect and standardize carrier data including driver turnover rates, type of cargo, and method and level of compensation. “Compensation levels are relevant because it is known that drivers who are better-compensated, and those not compensated based on miles traveled, have fewer crashes,” it reads.

An estimated 100,000 fatality- or injury-causing crashes involving large trucks and buses occur in the United States each year, the study notes. About 3.5 million commercial motor vehicle roadside inspections are conducted yearly as well.


John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, Inside Logistics, Solid Waste & Recycling, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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