Thursday, December 8, 2011

FMCSA Accepts HMSP Petition – Will it Increase Safety?

Yesterday I did a brief on-line article (subscription required) for the Journal of Hazmat Transportation about the recent acceptance by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration of a petition for rulemaking submitted by a group of industry organizations representing a number of different types of hazmat shippers. The petition was for changes to the procedures and methodologies used in determining which motor carriers would be disqualified from receiving Hazardous Materials Safety Permits (HMSP) based upon their safety records.

Without going into a great deal of detail the current regulations, 49 CFR 385.407, prohibits FMCSA from awarding HMSPs to carriers who rank in the top 30% in any of three measures of out-of-service (OOS) rates. Those rates are calculated at two year intervals and HMSPs are issue for the subsequent two years.

The industry organizations were concerned because decreasing OOS rates in two categories have made it more difficult for carriers to determine if their safety programs would provide low enough OOS rates to allow them to continue to carry hazardous materials. They noted that a carrier’s OOS rates could remain static and they could still inch up into the ‘bad’ 30% and loose some lucrative business.

Shippers are concerned because the way the OOS rate restrictions are applied (in the top 30% in any category) can result in substantially more than 30% of the carriers being ineligible to carry hazardous materials. This makes it more difficult for them to ensure that they have carriers available to carry their hazardous materials in a timely and economically viable manner.

From the point of view of a co-user of the nation’s highways, I’m not sure that I can sympathize with either the carriers or shippers. If decreasing OOS rates are truly reliable measures of transportation safety (lower OOS = safer carrier), then the lowering rates mean that safety is increasing. The carriers that cannot also lower their OOS rates are therefore not as safe (again if the OOS rates are a true measure of safety) as those that do. It seems to me that the carriers that have the standards raised above their safety record are just those carriers that we would rather not continue to have carrying hazardous materials.

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