Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Crash fault, crash risk, CSA and falling bridges

The overpass collapse onto Interstate 75 in Cincinnati could not be a more sobering example of the FMCSA’s delusional approach to crash risk.

On Monday, just two days before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released a report to Congress on its plan to study crash risk and announced it will be seeking public input on the study, a man lost his life and a truck driver was injured when an overpass scheduled for demolition collapsed onto I-75 below.

The J.B. Hunt intermodal driver, Eric Meyers, was approaching the overpass just as it collapsed. Just driving along. Doing his job. And, bam, a bridge falls in front of the truck. Not much in the way of options. The truck hit the fallen bridge and Eric was injured by the flying debris. Minor injuries, but injured nonetheless.

Most that hear or read about that would think it to certainly be an unfortunate turn of events. A case of wrong place, wrong time.

But not anyone familiar with the FMCSA’s safety measurement system, Compliance, Safety Accountability – or CSA.

CSA has a one-size-fits-all approach to calculating (internal to FMCSA only) scores in the Crash BASIC – a category designed to score motor carriers and their likelihood of crashing based on previous crashes. All crashes, regardless of fault. It goes into the system, chewed up and spit out by FMCSA’s fancy math and, voila, a score is calculated.

I cannot honestly think of a scenario any more clearly not the fault of a driver. The bridge collapsed. The sky fell. Mr. Meyers played absolutely no part in that scenario going down.

Yet his motor carrier and the driver, internally in the scoring side of CSA, will be saddled with a reportable crash.

The insanity of that scenario should not escape anyone.

Two days after the bridge collapse, FMCSA has released a report to Congress on its intention to study a motor carrier’s role in crashes as an indicator of future crash risk.

One of the scenarios the agency is pitching to analyze crash data is to resurrect the Large Truck Crash Causation Study methodology. The mere mention of that study has me muttering, cussing and wanting to bang my head on my desk. It’s just junk.

The study, rather than reporting who was at fault and why, is actually a collision-avoidance or crash-prevention study focused on pre-collision events rather than the consequences.

That purpose and the intention of the study have escaped many who began citing statistics – erroneously – from the study almost immediately following its release.

That’s not too hard to understand when you look at an example cited throughout the methodology summary:

“A truck turns across the path of an oncoming car at an intersection. The critical event is the truck’s turn across the path of the other vehicle. The truck had the turn arrow, observed the oncoming vehicle, and assumed that the oncoming vehicle would stop, which proved to be incorrect. (Right-of-way, which is captured separately, does not necessarily determine the critical event, because the collision may still be avoidable.) The critical reason is ‘false assumption of other road user’s actions.’ ”

Huh? The car ran the red light, so it is the cause of the crash. Why is the trucker being hit with statistical labels of “critical event” and “critical reason”?

Poor Mr. Meyers. With that kind of twisted logic, the trucker is the critical reason he was hit by the bridge because he was there.

Makes your eye twitch, doesn’t it?

Fault matters. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time and having a bridge fall right in front of you could not be considered an indicator of future crash risk.

FMCSA’s approach to all this is flawed and their study needs a serious reboot before it ever gets started.