Inside the Numbers

An Emerging Boon To Your Business

Avery Untitled 1As you know — or at least should know if you read this column regularly — the federal government’s recent change in the way it judges motor carriers’ safety performance works to the advantage of parts suppliers and service providers.

By shining a light specifically on vehicle maintenance compliance, among other concerns, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance Safety Accountability program forces fleets to find and fix flaws that previously might have gone unnoticed or at least unattended.

And as discussed last month, FMCSA makes it easy to identify the fleets in your market that are struggling most with that challenge.

This is just the beginning, however. Down the road, you could be able to identify many more potential customers due to government oversight.

As it stands, CSA highlights nearly 22,000 motor carriers operating 277,000 trucks that have been targeted for some type of intervention because of vehicle maintenance deficiencies. That sounds like a large number, but it’s only 3 percent of all active carriers that have USDOT numbers.

Does that mean that only 3 percent of all fleets struggle to maintain vehicles to safety standards? Not hardly. For starters, there are many more carriers that lurk just below the intervention threshold.

But there’s a much bigger reason why looking at CSA alerts captures only a fraction of the carriers and trucks that likely have safety-related vehicle maintenance problems. In the past two years, only 64 percent of carriers had at least one vehicle inspection at the roadside or weigh station.

Perhaps that wouldn’t be so bad if that 64 percent had lots of inspections. But that’s not the case.

Only 33 percent of carriers have had three or more inspections in the past two years, and only 6 percent were inspected 20 or more times over a two-year period.

CSA is just the tip of a lucrative iceberg, but it will take a while.

Put another way, trucks operated by USDOT motor carriers received fewer than 1.4 inspections on average in the past two years. That’s not much scrutiny, but it gets worse. Only 49 percent of trucks were ever inspected during the past two years.

In other words, nearly half of all trucks are completely invisible to federal regulators — and to your data mining.

So where’s the good news promised earlier? FMCSA has a strategy for dealing with this challenge, although it is years from widespread implementation.

The Department of Transportation has a long-term vision called the Smart Roadside Initiative that aims to better identify high-risk carriers, vehicles and drivers while keeping traffic flowing in order to improve productivity, reduce crashes and increase fuel efficiency.

One major element of the initiative is the wireless roadside inspection program, which still is just in the test phase.

Today, all inspections are done by human beings, and there are only so many of them. Under the wireless roadside inspection program, someday trucks will upload their vehicle condition data automatically once they cross an invisible border defined by satellite positioning coordinates known as a geofence.

FMCSA officials say this information will be used solely to screen trucks and drivers for further inspection. But it stands to reason that as the technology matures, pressure from safety advocates and declining federal and state budgets will force FMCSA to start treating this data as virtual inspections.

That data likely will be available to you, but even if it isn’t the result will be that many more carriers will need to fix brakes, lamps, tires and other items on many more trucks.

Again, routine wireless roadside inspection is years away, but eventually this and other measures to shine a brighter light on the condition of commercial motor vehicles will force far more fleets to spend more money on parts and service.

Avery Vise is executive director, trucking research and analysis for Randall-Reilly Business Media and Information.

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