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How are percentiles for the Safety Measurement System determined?

The Safety Management System (SMS) is a program initiated and enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It contains data from crash reports and roadside inspections for every commercial driver for the past 24 months. The FMCSA relies on the SMS to help identify drivers with safety challenges that might require intervention, up to and including putting their vehicles out of service.

Each month, the FMCSA updates the SMS to rank drivers according to seven specific categories called BASICs. This stands for Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category. The program groups drivers who have a similar number of violations in a certain category. It also ranks them in order from least safe to the safest and assigns percentiles indicating where the driver stands against other drivers in the same classification.

A brief review of BASICs

Here are the categories that the SMS uses to rank all drivers and establish percentiles:

Controlled Substances/Alcohol: Consuming alcohol or drugs or having them in a commercial vehicle whether open or not will count against drivers for this BASIC.

Crash Indicator: The SMS includes crashes in this category that involved an injury, fatality, or required intervention to move the vehicle from the crash scene.

Driver Fitness: All drivers must have complete records of their commercial driver’s license, reviews of annual driving records, employment applications, medical certificates, and state driving records.

Hazardous Materials Compliance: Drivers who transport hazardous materials must comply with regulations on how to mark and package them.

Hours-of-Service Compliance: Commercial drivers must abide by limits on the number of consecutive hours and days they can drive as well as mandatory rest periods.

Unsafe Driving: This BASIC covers several behaviors such as texting while driving, speeding, reckless driving, and general inattention.

Vehicle Maintenance: This includes information from pre-trip and post-trip inspections, repairs, and known vehicle defects.

How the SMS calculates these percentiles

When considering a driver’s performance in each BASIC, the SMS combines the severity of the violation with the date it occurred. Newer violations automatically receive more weight than older ones, and most violations drop out of the SMS entirely after 24 months.

It also normalizes the violation by exposure, which enables the SMS to make fair comparisons between drivers carrying out different levels of activity. For example, the number of miles traveled and the number of power units each vehicle contains are common methods of comparison. The SMS takes the score from each BASIC into a percentile when comparing drivers with a similar number of violations such as crashes or the number of inspections that included violations.

For its monthly update, the SMS takes a snapshot of driver data available on either the third Friday or the last Friday of the month. It takes the organization approximately 10 business days to validate and organize this information before uploading it to its website. Some information from a driver’s BASICs are available to the public.

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