The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is charged with the regulation of motor carriers (trucks and buses) safety. To meet its safety objectives, the FMCSA created its “Safety Measurement System” (SMS). The SMS is in turn implemented through the “Compliance, Safety, Accountability” (CSA) system. The CSA system uses roadside inspections and crash data to identify unsafe carriers. Once identified, there are a range of FMSCA interventions utilized to compel carriers and drivers to safely operate the carrier’s trucks and/or buses.
Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs)
There are numerous factors that weigh into measures of safety performance of trucks and buses. The safety factors are referred to as Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). These include behavioral measures of both the carriers and their drivers such as driver fatigue, violation of traffic laws, excessive driving hours, vehicle maintenance and so on. Deficiencies on any one of these factors or combinations of factors can result in an intervention by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
FMCSA has a host of intervention options for BASICs violations. These are typically progressive, meaning that FMCSA will choose the least burdensome intervention to begin and move to more serious interventions with subsequent violations. On the other hand, in cases of very serious violations, the FMCSA can move directly to the most burdensome and punitive interventions.
FMCSA categorizes the interventions as early contact, investigation and follow-on.
Early Contact Interventions
There are two early contact interventions. The first is a simple warning letter from FMCSA to the carrier. The FMCSA warning letter notifies the carrier of safety and compliance issues and violations. The warning letter also indicates to the carrier the possible consequences of continued violations.
Along with the warning letter, there will typically be targeted roadside inspections. These roadside inspections are targeted toward the carrier’s specific safety violations which are communicated to roadside inspection stations. The inspections will focus on those specific violations for the most part. Of course, visible violations above and beyond those specifically targeted will be addressed as well.
Early contact may be enough to address the carrier’s safety deficiencies. However, if they are not, then the interventions escalate to on and off-site investigations.
In the event that the carrier fails to take appropriate remedial action or in cases of serious safety violations, the FMCSA can initiate an investigation of the carrier. The investigations can be off-site with simple requests for appropriate documentation regarding the safety issues at hand. For more serious or persistent violations, the FMCSA may decide to conduct on-site investigations. The on-site investigations may focus on the specific violation or take a more comprehensive approach investigating all aspects of operational safety.
Follow On Interventions
Following the investigation(s), the carrier may be allowed to enter into a cooperative safety plan with the FMCSA. However, in addition to the cooperative safety plan (CSP), the FMCSA may also issue a notice of violation (NOV) where there are severe violations.
In the case of NOVs, no fines or penalties are issued. Where the NOVs are not properly addressed and severe violations continue, the FMCSA can issue a formal notice of claim (NOC). A NOC does result in fines and penalties.
The last recourse for FMCSA after moving through these progressive steps with the carrier is the out of service order. An operation out of service order (OOSO) is the most severe penalty and requires the carrier to cease operations completely until the safety issues have been properly addressed.
Discovery of FMCSA Interventions for Truck or Bus Crash Victims
Discovery is the process of collecting evidence of wrongdoing. Discovery is extremely important in truck and bus accidents. Trucking companies and their agents in particular often attempt to conceal or manipulate evidence to avoid legal responsibility for the inevitably catastrophic harm that results from truck crashes. The beauty of the FMCSA actions outlined above is that the documentation associated with the interventions is outside the control of the carrier. These documents can be obtained directly from the FMCSA.
In fact, much of the information outlined above is publicly available through the FMCSA’s “Compliance, Safety, Accountability” (CSA) system. Other information may be obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Finally, any information not accessible informally through FOIA or the CSA system may be obtained through formal discovery once litigation is commenced.
Keep in mind that the discovery related to FMCSA interventions does not necessarily prove your case. Likewise, the absence of FMCSA interventions does not necessarily weaken your case. On the other hand, it is essential to gather this information since it is most definitely relevant to any truck or bus accident.