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On September 23, 2005, a 1998 Motor Coach Industries, Inc., 54-passenger motorcoach, operated by Global Limo Inc. (Global), of Pharr, Texas, was traveling northbound on Interstate 45 (I-45) near Wilmer, Texas. The motorcoach, en route from Bellaire to Dallas, Texas, as part of the evacuation in anticipation of Hurricane Rita, was carrying 44 assisted living facility residents and nursing staff. The trip had begun about 3:00 p.m. on September 22. Fifteen hours later, about 6:00 a.m. on the following day, a motorist noticed that the right-rear tire hub was glowing red and alerted the motorcoach driver, who stopped in the left traffic lane and then proceeded to the right shoulder of I-45 near milepost 269.5. The driver and nursing staff exited the motorcoach and observed flames emanating from the right-rear wheel well. As they initiated an evacuation of the motorcoach, with assistance from passersby, heavy smoke and fire quickly engulfed the entire vehicle. Twenty-three passengers were fatally injured. Of the 21 passengers who escaped, 2 were seriously injured and 19 received minor injuries; the motorcoach driver also received minor injuries.
TO THE FEDERAL MOTOR CARRIER SAFETY ADMINISTRATION: To protect the traveling public until completion of the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 Initiative, immediately issue an Interim Rule to include all Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in the current compliance review process so that all violations of regulations are reflected in the calculation of a carrier’s final rating.
Original recommendation transmittal letter:
Closed - Acceptable Alternate Action
Wilmer, TX, United States
Motorcoach Fire on Interstate 45 During Hurricane Rita Evacuation
Addressee(s) and Addressee Status:
FMCSA (Closed - Acceptable Alternate Action)
Safety Recommendation History
We are pleased that you developed weighted measures for violations of regulations beyond the out-of-service violations, and that these violations are included as part of your Safety Measurement System to identify carriers for interventions that determine the carriers’ safety ratings. These efforts constitute an acceptable alternate means of addressing Safety Recommendation H-07-3, which is classified CLOSED—ACCEPTABLE ALTERNATE ACTION.
Notation 8248: The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has reviewed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Announcement of Public Listening Session and Request for Comment, which was published at 75 Federal Register 53015 on August 30, 2010. The notice announced that the FMCSA planned to hold a public listening session to solicit input on key challenges facing the motor carrier industry, issues facing stakeholders, and concerns that should be considered by the agency in developing its next 5-year Strategic Plan. NTSB staff attended the listening session and provided the FMCSA with a list of open recommendations that have been issued to the FMCSA. The FMCSA also invited written comments, suggestions, and recommendations from all individuals and organizations regarding the FMCSA’s mission, vision, and strategic objectives (goals) for the plan. This letter provides a more detailed history of the currently open recommendations the NTSB has made to the FMCSA (attached), a summary of the key safety issues the FMCSA should address to improve truck and bus safety as presented during the NTSB’s April 28, 2010, testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security (attached), and responds to the questions most relevant to the NTSB’s mission for which the FMCSA is seeking input. Question 2. How can the FMCSA have a greater impact in the reduction of injuries and loss of life on our nation’s highways? The NTSB currently has 51 open recommendations that were issued to the FMCSA with the intent to improve safety on our highways. The implementation of these recommendations would allow the FMCSA to have both an immediate and lasting impact on reducing loss on our highways. We continue to believe that a plan to implement the recommendations on the NTSB’s Federal Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements (MWL) would significantly contribute to transportation safety. Question 5. How can the FMCSA balance driver-focused, vehicle-focused, motor carrier- focused compliance, interventions, and enforcement to achieve its safety mission? The NTSB has recommended that the FMCSA change the “balance” of its motor carrier oversight since 1999. The two most important factors related to safe motor carrier operations are the condition of the vehicles and the performance of the drivers. Current rules prevent the FMCSA from putting carriers out of service with an unsatisfactory rating in only one of the 6 rated factors. They must be unsatisfactory in at least 2 factors. In other words, they could be unsatisfactory in either the vehicle or driver areas and still be allowed to operate. The NTSB believes that an unsatisfactory in either category should be sufficient cause to place a carrier out of service. The NTSB recommended that the FMCSA do something relatively simple: change the safety fitness rating methodology so that adverse vehicle- or driver performance-based data alone would be sufficient to result in an overall “unsatisfactory” rating for a carrier. To date, the FMCSA has not acted on this recommendation. As a result, the NTSB added this recommendation to our Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. The NTSB has been encouraged that the FMCSA is developing the CSA 2010 Initiative to include a greater emphasis on vehicle and driver safety. However, the NTSB is disappointed that the FMCSA did not make the incremental changes to the current safety system necessary to make either driver or vehicle deficiencies sufficient to affect the safety rating of a carrier. As such, the NTSB believes the FMCSA’s strategic plan should recognize the importance of getting carriers with unsafe drivers or unsafe vehicles off the road. Question 8. What technological changes could positively impact highway safety? The NTSB has recommended numerous technological improvements to both the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Two technologies, forward collision warning systems (FCWs) and electronic onboard recording systems (EOBRs), are currently on the NTSB’s Federal MWL. Both of these technologies have been available for the last decade and could have improved highway safety. More recently, the NTSB has recommended to NHTSA technologies for driver fatigue detection, stability control for buses, event data recording, and lane departure warning for buses. The implementation of these recommendations would significantly improve highway safety. Question 9. How will technology affect driver behavior? Well designed technology can improve driver performance. Current research by the FMCSA on vehicle based collision warning systems found improved driver performance as a result of technology. However, technology not designed for use in vehicles, such as cell phones, can distract the driver from the road. That is why the NTSB supported the FMCSA’s ban on texting. Further, the NTSB has included restricting bus drivers from using a cell phone on its Federal MWL. The NTSB appreciates the opportunity to comment on this notice addressing concerns that should be considered in developing the FMCSA’s 5-year Strategic Plan. Many of the issues discussed here have been around for decades, and much is left to be done to improve highway safety. Prompt action is needed so that the trucks and buses that surround us on the nation’s highways are safely designed, maintained, and operated. We look forward to working with FMCSA in the near future to address the concerns presented in these comments.
The NTSB reiterated another recommendation to the FMCSA.34 This recommendation, which has appeared on the NTSB Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements since 2000, is as follows: Change the safety fitness rating methodology so that adverse vehicle or driver performance-based data alone are sufficient to result in an overall unsatisfactory rating for a carrier. (H-99-6) At the NTSB’s August 2006 public hearing on the Wilmer, Texas, accident, the FMCSA explained that when it originally developed the current safety fitness determination (SFD) process, driver OOS rating information was found to be insufficient to accurately determine a driver’s safety performance; the FMCSA has since developed and is pilot testing a data-driven SFD process, which includes items such as vehicle and driver OOS rates, as part of its comprehensive examination of compliance review and enforcement oversight. According to the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) initiative website,35 the FMCSA expects to complete the operational model test by June 2010. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute will then evaluate the program’s effectiveness (that is, potential for improving safety) and efficiency (that is, impact on scarce resources). The FMCSA expects to fully implement CSA 2010 by the end of 2010. However, until rulemaking has been completed on the new SFD methodology, CSA 2010 implementation will not address the NTSB’s recommendations. Although the FMCSA has stated that the conceptual model for CSA 2010 is significantly different from the current operational model in that safety fitness determinations will be independent of the compliance review, the expected timeframe for full implementation of the new program, including the new SFD process, may be another year or more away. In the interim, deficiencies in the current compliance review system should be remedied to help prevent unsafe carriers from continuing to operate. The FMCSA is responsible for ensuring that motor carriers operate safely, and temporary measures to improve the compliance review process are necessary until the new rules are enacted. The FHWA (FMCSA’s predecessor) set a precedent for the issuance of interim rules to improve safety programs when, in 1997, the agency issued an interim final rule to immediately improve the safety rating methodology without prior notice and comment, stating that to have done otherwise would have been contrary to the public interest. Further, in response to Safety Recommendation H-07-3, the FMCSA acknowledged the need to establish an SFD process that better identifies at-risk carriers than the current process under 49 CFR Part 385. However, the FMCSA replied that it was in the best interest of highway safety to focus its resources on implementing CSA 2010 rather than on diverting resources to an interim final rule to make modifications to the SFD process. The NTSB disagreed and classified Safety Recommendation H-07-3 OPEN -- UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE on September 4, 2008. And so, as it has done in several accident investigations over the past 10 years, the NTSB again concludes that the current FMCSA compliance review process does not effectively identify unsafe motor carriers and prevent them from operating. The NTSB recognizes the progress that the FMCSA has made with CSA 2010 and the agency’s expected on-time full implementation. The NTSB believes that, to maintain safety in the interim, the FMCSA should focus resources toward changing the current rating methodology by instituting an interim rule that makes adverse vehicle and driver performance-based data alone sufficient to result in an overall unsatisfactory rating for a carrier, while continuing to incorporate the principles of the NTSB’s recommendations into the agency’s new system being field tested and evaluated in CSA 2010. Therefore, the NTSB reiterates Safety Recommendation H-07-3 and both reiterates and reclassifies Safety Recommendation H-99-6 from Open Acceptable Response to ?Open Unacceptable Response
The Safety Board disagrees with the FMCSA’s belief that it is in the best interest of highway safety that the FMCSA focus its resources on implementing the Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA 2010) initiative. Out of concern that motor carriers with significant regulatory violations for drivers and vehicles are still receiving satisfactory ratings, the Board issued Safety Recommendation H-07-3 to remedy deficiencies in the current compliance review system and to help prevent unsafe carriers from continuing to operate. The Board is aware that the conceptual model for CSA 2010 is significantly different from the current operational model in that safety fitness determinations will be independent of the compliance review. We note that some violations have already been incorporated into the safety measurement system of the proposed CSA 2010; however, the expected implementation date of June 2010, in the best-case scenario, allows unsafe carriers to continue to operate for at least 2 1/2 years more. The Board is also aware that the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee is now tasked with considering the 92 recommendations made by the Government Accounting Office, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Inspector General, and the Board, including Safety Recommendation H-07-3, to provide a priority list of safety provisions for inclusion in the FMCSA’s statutory program. Nevertheless, the FMCSA is responsible for ensuring that motor carriers operate safely; therefore, temporary measures to improve the compliance review process may be necessary until new rules are enacted. Accordingly, pending issuance of an Interim Rule to include all Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations in the current compliance review process so that all violations of regulations are reflected in the calculation of a carrier’s final rating, Safety Recommendation H-07-3 is classified OPEN -- UNACCEPTABLE RESPONSE.
Letter Mail Controlled 12/3/2007 3:13:06 PM MC# 2070701: - From John H. Hill, Administrator: With regards to H-07-03, FMCSA acknowledges the need to establish a safety fitness determination (SFD) process that better identifies at-risk carriers than the current process under 49 CFR Part 385. However, FMCSA believes that it is in the best interest of highway safety that the Agency focus its resources on implementing the Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA 2010) initiative, rather than diverting resources to an interim final rule to make modifications to the SFD process that may not necessarily result in reductions in crashes, fatalities and injuries. Implementing safety recommendation H-07-03 in the SFD process would result in a significant increase in the number of motor carriers that are rated Conditional and Unsatisfactory without regard to their crash rates. The recommendation would not increase the total number of carriers selected for compliance reviews (CRs), but it would increase the number of carriers that receive a proposed Conditional or Unsatisfactory rating. For each additional carrier that is rated Conditional or Unsatisfactor the Agency would be forced to dedicate substantial resources for administrative reviews which ensure due process for motor carriers. The final SFD may not be Conditional or Unsatisfactory when the administrative review process is over. Motor carriers that take corrective actions to achieve full compliance with the safety regulations and demonstrate a willingness to maintain appropriate safety management controls to prevent recurrences of the types of safety violations that resulted in a potentially poor safety rating are allowed to continue operating. The FMCSA does not believe highway safety would be improved by taking an already resource-intensive intervention (the current CR) and making it even more demanding of the Agency’s investigators and legal staff, especially when there is no indication that this action would lead directly to reductions in crashes, injuries and fatalities. In addition, an interim rulemaking to change the SFD methodology would require regulatory analyses to quantify the safety benefits in terms of crash, injury and fatality prevention. The Agency must present sufficient information to demonstrate that modifying the SFD methodology in a manner to cause more carriers to be issued proposed ratings of Conditional and Unsatisfactory would provide safety benefits. The Agency does not have data to suggest safety would be improved through such a rulemaking, at this time. The only certainty is that for each CR conducted by FMCSA and its State partners, more resources would be required to complete the process and issue a final rating, and ultimately, fewer CRs would be completed because of the additional time required to close out CRs. The FMCSA has stated publicly that its CR program is resource-intensive and reaches only a small percentage of motor carriers. Onsite CRs which are used to determine motor carriers’ safety fitness, take one safety investigator an average of 3 or 4 days to complete. Therefore, at present staffing levels, FMCSA can perform CRs on only a small portion of the active interstate motor carriers. These factors make it increasingly difficult to make sustained improvements to motor carrier safety using existing programs and information systems. In addition, FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study clearly indicates that increased attention should be directed to drivers. Although FMCSA considers, to a limited extent, the compliance and safety performance of CMV drivers and pursues enforcement against them if warranted, current FMCSA data systems do not evaluate the safety fitness of individual CMV drivers. For these reasons, FMCSA is exploring ways through CSA 2010 to improve its current processes for monitoring and assessing the safety performance of motor carriers and drivers. The goal of CSA 2010 is to develop a new approach to assessing safety fitness of a larger segment of the motor carrier industry, while optimizing the use of Agency resources. The CSA 2010 initiative is designed to help FMCSA affect a larger number of motor carriers and drivers using a broader array of compliance interventions. The new measurement system under CSA 2010 would group the safety performance data of motor carriers and drivers into seven categories, called BASICs - Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement Categories. The seven BASICs are: (1) Unsafe Driving, (2) Fatigued Driving, (3) Driver Fitness, (4) Drugs/Alcohol, (5) Vehicle Maintenance, (6) Cargo Securement, and (7) Crash Experience. The data would be scored and weighed based on its relationship to crash causation. Based on a motor carrier’s score within each BASIC, the measurement system would trigger when the Agency should begin to intervene with a motor carrier, and when its performance has reached the unfit threshold. Under CSA 2010, the SFD process would be based on performance data processed through the measurement system and would not necessarily be tied to the current CR. Depending on the motor carrier’s BASIC scores, the SFD could be continue to operate, marginal (with ongoing intervention), or unfit. Each motor carrier or driver for which there is sufficient data would receive a SFD that would be updated every 30 days. This new CSA 2010 SFD methodology must be implemented through notice and comment rulemaking. The FMCSA is in the preliminary stages of drafting the notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to implement the CSA 2010 SFD methodology. The Agency anticipates publication of the NPRM in 2008. Currently, FMCSA is planning to field test the new CSA 2010 operational model (Op-Model) beginning in January 2008. The purpose of the test is to determine both the feasibility and effectiveness of the new CSA 2010 interventions (interventions other than the CR process) and measurement system. During the Op-Model test, FMCSA will not provide any regulatory relief. Motor carriers in the Op-Model test with poor safety performance, and found to be unresponsive to the new CSA 2010 interventions will undergo a CR and be rated in accordance with the Agency’s current compliance and enforcement process. Motor carriers will not actually be rated under the CSA 2010 operational model because that methodology has not yet been implemented through rulemaking. The FMCSA acknowledges the NTSB’s concerns about the current CR process. However, the Agency continues to believe the most effective manner to identify at-risk carriers and the appropriate action to improve their safety performance is the full implementation of CSA 2010. Modifying the current CR process to make it more resource-intensive without regard for motor carriers’ actual safety performance would not necessarily improve motor carrier safety. Based on the above, FMCSA requests that Safety Recommendation H-07-03 be classified as Closed Acceptable Response.
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