Concerned with reducing the number and severity of commercial truck accidents, and seeking to more closely regulate truckers generally, Congress enacted the Motor Carrier Act of 1980 to deregulate the trucking industry.
Pursuant to new authority under that law, the Department of Transportation ("DOT") began compiling safety records for carriers and individual drivers, as well as conducting random and scheduled roadside inspections. As a result, truck crashes and related fatalities dropped across the country.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ("FMCSA") was created as a new enforcement branch of the DOT in 2004. A fundamental goal of the FMCSA over the past several years has been to better identify high-risk carriers and drivers and use a combination of educational efforts, warning letters, on-site reviews and, when necessary, license suspensions to ensure compliance with trucking laws and safety regulations.
Central to that aim has been the development of a new system called Compliance, Safety, Accountability ("CSA") that divides driving violations into seven stated categories, as follows: unsafe driving; fatigue driving; driver fitness; drugs and alcohol; vehicle maintenance; cargo-related; and crashes.
Regulators say that the CSA helps them spot trends and problems quickly and respond properly to companies that are deficient in any of these areas. Thresholds are established based on the crash risk associated with each category, with the FMCSA taking action once a threshold is crossed. The more serious a crash risk, the more punitive the administration's response, with hefty fines and suspension of a carrier's authority to operate occasionally coming into play.
Safety experts point to reduced-crash statistics as proof that the system works. They say it instills an unflagging and industry-wide focus on best practices.
Related Resource: MFR Tech, "FMCSA Introduces New Rating System for Carriers and Commercial Drivers" May 16, 2011