FMCSA proposes changes to how it measures safety

February 14, 2023

Mark Schremmer


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to change its process for determining high-risk motor carriers.

On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the agency is scheduled to publish a notice in the Federal Register with a proposal for changes to its Safety Measurement System. Once the notice is published, the public will have 90 days to comment on the proposal.

FMCSA said the proposed changes will make it easier to identify the companies that need the most intervention.

“Safety is FMCSA’s core mission,” FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson said in a news release. “The proposed changes are part of the agency’s continued commitment to enhancing fairness, accuracy and clarity of our prioritization system.”


FMCSA implemented SMS in 2010 as part of an effort to identify high-risk motor carriers for investigation.

In 2017, the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences recommended that FMCSA develop and test a new statistical model. As part of its recommendations, the council said FMCSA should develop an Item Response Theory model, which is a more statistical principled approach.

FMCSA tested the model and determined that it doesn’t perform well for the agency’s use in identifying motor carriers for safety interventions.

“Because IRT is overly complex and adopting the IRT model would reduce transparency without improving safety, FMCSA will not replace SMS with an IRT model,” the agency wrote in the notice. “Instead, FMCSA continues its commitment to continuously improving SMS to identify motor carriers that present the highest crash risk through a transparent and effective system.”

The proposal

FMCSA proposes the following combined improvements to SMS:

  1. Reorganized and updated safety categories.
  2. Consolidated violations.
  3. Simplified violation severity weights.
  4. Proportionate percentiles instead of safety event groups.
  5. Improved intervention thresholds.
  6. Greater focus on recent violations.
  7. An updated utilization factor.

The new safety categories would be unsafe driving, crash indicator, hours-of-service compliance, vehicle maintenance, driver observed vehicle maintenance, hazmat compliance, and driver fitness.

As part of the effort to consolidate violations, 973 violation codes would be reduced to 116 safety groups.

Violations would be categorized by either a one or two as opposed to the current 1-10 system.

FMCSA proposes to use a new method of “proportionate percentiles” that will remove sudden jumps in percentiles, which can occur when a carrier moves into a different safety event group.

The agency believes adjusting the intervention thresholds in certain categories will allow it to focus on “populations with a greater safety risk.”

As part of the proposal, the agency also would place more focus on carriers with at least one violation in a safety category in the past 12 months.

An updated utilization factor would be extended to carriers that drive up to 250,000 vehicle-miles-traveled per power unit in the unsafe driving and crash indicator safety categories.

A new website, the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) Prioritization Preview, allows motor carriers to preview how their data would appear under the proposed changes. The agency said companies are encouraged to preview the results and submit feedback on the proposed changes.

How to comment

Once the notice is published on Feb. 15, the public will have through May 16 to comment. To comment, go to the website and enter Docket No. FMCSA-2022-0066. The agency also will be conducting public webinars to answer questions about the notice. You can register by clicking on the links below.