In Praise of ATRI’s Non-Preventable Crash Study

Imagine this scenario: You are sitting in your car at a red light waiting for the light to turn green. You glance in your rearview mirror and see another car in your lane barreling towards you, not a split second passes before you feel the impact. You have been rear-ended. As a result of the accident: you have been labeled an unsafe driver; your driving privileges are being monitored and/or limited; and it has been determined that the likelihood of you being involved in a future accident has increased. How is this fair? The accident was not your fault and there was nothing you could have done to prevent it! It shouldn’t affect your future driving status!

Members of the trucking industry have reacted similarly to the FMCSA-Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program’s current approach for evaluating motor carrier’s non-preventable crashes which directly reflects in a motor carrier’s overall safety performance. The continued buzz around this topic sparked the American Transportation Research Institute’s study, released earlier this month, “Assessing the Impact of Non-Preventable Crashes on CSA Scores”, discussed below.

Understanding FMCSA-CSA Safety Performance Evaluation Fundamentals: Under CSA, both carriers and drivers receive safety scores across seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). The BASIC measurements are then used to identify and prioritize by ranking high-risk motor carriers for intervention. Percentiles from 0 to 100 (the higher the percentile, the worse the performance) are assigned to each motor carrier after the BASIC measurements are compared with other similarly situated motor carriers. Of the seven BASIC measurements only five are available to the public.

Poor BASIC measures can significantly impact carriers and drivers through multiple avenues including: economic harm, higher insurance costs, legal consequences, and lost productivity as a result of more frequent inspections. As you can see, it is important the factors used to calculate BASICs are accurate to avoid harsh and unnecessary consequences for the carrier.

BASIC at the core of the ATRI Study: the Crash Indicator

One of the seven BASICs, the Crash Indicator BASIC, evaluates a carrier’s crash involvement history for the previous 24 months using only the data obtained through state-reported crashes labeled DOT-reportable (1) . The Crash Indicator BASIC is one of the two BASICs that are not available to the public. Under the current BASIC formula, all crashes count against a carrier regardless of preventability of fault of the motor carrier driver. This methodology obviously results in skewed high percentile assignments for many carriers. The FMCSA advises that drivers can improve their safety performance in the Crash Indicator BASIC only by not having crashes. Such comments do not provide carriers with actual guidance and skirt around the underlying BASIC formula issue.

Let’s go back to the rear-ended scenario and imagine your new label as an unsafe driver prevented you from securing new business, caused you to lose existing business, or caused your insurance rates to skyrocket; this is happening all because of an accident that was 100% not your fault and you had no way of preventing. Attempting to take the FMCSA’s advice of “not having crashes” is hardly a solution. Think about it, would you be willing to accept the harsh consequences that are associated with a crash caused by someone else? Should motor carriers have to?

Instead of suggesting redemption to motor carriers to “not have crashes”, we suggest FMCSA take a harder look at the root of the issue and consider the possibility of removing non-preventable crashes from the BASIC formula. Would this change the way motor carriers safety performance is reflected and thus limit the affiliated harsh consequences? ATRI’s study suggests yes.

ATRI-“Assessing the Impact on Non-Preventable Crashes on CSA Scores”- The RESULTS: ATRI’s findings show eliminating just five causes within non-preventable categorized accidents from a sample of 15 motor carriers CSA scores caused a significant positive change in majority of the carriers’ Crash BASIC percentile scores. ATRI goes on to discuss the conservative approach taken in their analysis which leads us to believe the results of removing non-preventable crashes have a much greater potential to help motor carriers than even reflected in the study.

ATRI began their study by soliciting the requisite information from 15 motor carriers (2). After the carrier records were received, they were sorted to determine if they fell into one of the five chosen non-preventable primary crash causes: 1) truck collided with animal on roadway, 2) other driver hits legally parked truck, 3) other driver ran red light or stop sign and hit truck, 4) other driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol and hit truck, 5) truck-assisted suicide by pedestrian. To be clear, there are other types of crashes within the non-preventable category. ATRI chose these five because there is no question as to the crash not being able to be prevented by any action, inaction or intervention on the truck driver’s behalf.

For the 15 carriers, crashes associated with one of the five non-preventable causes listed above accounted for only 8.9% of the carrier’s total crash record database; however, non-preventable crashes as a whole accounted for 61% of the 15 carriers in the study.

Next, ATRI removed the crashes that fell under one of the five primary non-preventable causes (8.9%) from the carrier’s Crash Indicator BASIC measure and then recalculated the adjusted BASIC measures. The Crash Indicator BASIC measure decreased by nearly 5.3% on average. The maximum reduction ATRI saw in Crash Indicator was 14.2%.

If ATRI’s study would have taken the more liberal approach and removed all 61% of the non-preventable crashes the positive impact would have increased more significantly. Should the FMCSA adopt this model of eliminating non-preventable crashes, more encompassing categories should be added to the five used in this study to account for the crashes that make up the 61%.

The next time you are stuck at a red light think about the potential consequences that those around you can cause and use it as a reminder to watch this topic as it progresses, hopefully ending in a more efficient measuring system for motor carriers.

(1) DOT-reportable crash is a crash which resulted in either a fatality, an injury where a person was taken to a medical facility for treatment, or if a vehicle was towed away due to damage incurred from the crash.

(2) Since Crash BASIC percentile scores are restricted from the public and MCMIS does not include crash causes, ATRI employed a carrier case study approach through soliciting information using a data request form.

Emily Littlefield is an associate attorney at Roberts Perryman. Emily’s’s practice focuses on transportation, insurance coverage and defense.

Emily Littlefield

Roberts Perryman has been a leader in transportation defense for over 50 years with offices in St. Louis and Springfield, MO and Belleville, IL.

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