Last year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking announcing their decision to explore ways to update its safety rating process. The headline at the time was the agency’s suggestion that it is considering leveraging Safety Measurement System scores to issue carrier safety ratings monthly. Now, in its latest move, FMCSA published a Notice of Data Availability (NODA) alerting stakeholders of six studies FMCSA believes may be relevant to this proceeding. It was an unusual move STC has not seen before. What does it mean?

First, FMCSA must believe these studies are fundamental to its ability to formulate an effective rule, or at least to justify the direction it is heading in its proposal. In STC’s collective decades of monitoring the federal register, we have never seen a notice of data availability published before a proposed rule. In fact, a search of the Federal Register for Notice of Data Availability published by FMCSA returned only this notice.

Next, an examination of the titles of these studies may give us clues to some of the policy decisions they are weighing. Of the six studies listed, three of them are related to the effectiveness of vehicle safety technology. A fourth investigates the relationship between safety-critical events, typically captured by onboard monitoring systems, and crash risk. Could FMCSA be suggesting they’re considering crediting or acknowledging carriers who go beyond compliance by adopting proven safety technology? STC has written before about the Beyond Compliance Program and believes the time is past due to move forward and implement this program.

Finally, FMCSA is moving quickly through the rulemaking process. This is the second notice published by FMCSA on this topic in less than five months. To be clear, it will still take a while to complete this rulemaking as FMCSA still needs to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking, analyze comments, and draft and publish a final rule, but it’s clear FMCSA is working on this rule swiftly.