Friday, March 11, 2011

FMCSA is sending out Warning Letters now

Many carriers may not know what to do. These letters drive the need for carriers to review safety practices and training, as well as to shore up possible deficiencies. The Evergreen Safety Council Online Institute, which features courses designed to cover the training required by the FMCSA.

FMCSA has begun sending an initial batch of 23,000 Compliance, Safety, Accountability program warning letters to fleets as the agency begins concrete interventions in its new program. Over the next several months, a total of at least 50,000 warning letters will be sent, Boyd Stephenson, manager of safety and security for ATA, told Transport Topics.

Warning letters advise carriers that their performance merited “alert” status by falling below acceptable levels on at least one of CSA’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, or BASICs. Those BASICs, such as unsafe or fatigued driving, form the statistical heart of CSA’s safety measurement system, which assigns a percentage ranking on each BASIC and establishes thresholds. Warning letters are sent when threshold levels are exceeded.

“A review of [insert carrier name] safety data shows a lack of compliance with motor carrier safety regulations and suggests that your safety performance has fallen to an unacceptable level,” John Van Steenburg, director of FMCSA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance, writes in these alert letters. Agency spokeswoman Candice Tolliver said both trucking and bus companies will receive letters over the next two months, but she couldn’t say exactly how many went to truck fleets. About 8% of carriers will receive warning letters, based on FMCSA statistics that count 650,000 carriers.

Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said the warning letters are an important step because they quadruple the number of carriers facing active FMCSA intervention. Under the former SafeStat system, the agency took action against just 2% of carriers. Keppler said it was difficult to judge industry safety levels based on the number of warning letters because there is no earlier point of comparison to show whether progress was being made.

Warning letters can be followed by off-site or on-site investigations if carriers’ performance doesn’t improve. There is no time limit for responding to the letters. The agency’s enforcement options include creation of a cooperative safety plan, imposition of civil penalties, suspension or revocation of vehicle registration or revocation of operating authority.

“Just because you get a warning letter doesn’t mean you are a bad carrier,” Keppler said, noting that the agency’s tightest focus will be on 7,900 highest-risk carriers with the worst safety performance. “The important thing is that folks who get these things pay attention,” he said, adding that he was encouraged that more than half of carriers who received warnings during the CSA pilot test period took effective remedial action.

The letters are an expected step, based on the gradual implementation of CSA. FMCSA chose the gradual approach to mailing the letters, ATA’s Stephenson said, because “the agency was concerned about overwhelming both the industry and their [own] staff by sending them out all at once.”

Fleets receiving the letters are subject to increased roadside inspections. To help fleets improve compliance, the agency posted a Tip Sheet on its website that advises what they can do after a letter arrives. Fleets are advised to conduct a detailed analysis of their safety data and take steps to improve compliance. Those steps include checking data for accuracy, correcting any errors, understanding the Safety Measurement System used to compute the scores and using a detailed analysis to improve compliance. A factsheet about the warning letter intervention provides a sample warning letter and some frequently asked questions.

Meanwhile, a new report highlighted FMCSA’s plan to sharply increase funding and staffing for CSA. The Feb. 25 report by the Government Accountability Office said the agency requested $78 million in its CSA budget for fiscal 2012, compared with $9.5 million it spent in fiscal 2010. The report was requested by the Republican and Democratic chairmen of the congressional transportation appropriations subcommittees as well as their ranking minority members, who expressed concern about past funding levels. In total, FMCSA contemplates having 696 employees working full time on the program, the report said. By comparison, 45 people worked on the program in 2009, with just five of them full-time employees.
(From: Transport Topics Online, 3/7/11)

In the most recent edition of CVSA's Guardian, Anne Ferro, Administrator of the FMCSA, addressed the issue of warning letters for the new Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) enforcement program for commercial trucks and buses. She characterized the letters as “an important part of the CSA intervention process” by notifying carriers of their safety performance issues so they can take corrective action, “sort of like a first-level intervention.” FMCSA issued warning letters only in nine pilot-test states in January. Carriers located in the remaining 41 states will receive warning letters during the first quarter of 2011.

“We expect to send about 27,000 warning letters during this timeframe,” she said. “After the initial round, FMCSA anticipates sending about 3,100 each month nationwide.” She noted that states can expect more DataQs requests as a result of warning letters. The DataQs system is an electronic means for filing concerns about federal and state data released to the public by FMCSA. Through this system, data concerns are automatically forwarded to the appropriate office for resolution. The system also allows filers to monitor the status of each filing.
(From: SC&RA Newsletter, 2/18/11)

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