Compliance Topics - NTCI Blog

Compliance Topics - NTCI Blog

Roadside Intervention Effectiveness: Analyzing the FMCSA Program Results

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has developed an analytic model to measure the effectiveness of roadside inspections and traffic enforcements in terms of the number of crashes prevented, injuries prevented, and lives saved. This model provides FMCSA management with the information needed to address the requirements of the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which requires Federal agencies to measure the effectiveness of their programs as part of the budget cycle process. It also provides FMCSA and State safety program managers with a quantitative basis for optimizing the allocation of safety resources in the field.

That's taken from the first paragraph of a report issued in February discussing the positive impacts created by FMCSA's program of roadside inspection and traffic enforcement. Anytime someone releases a study there's almost certain to be questions asked about the validity of the methodology. However, for the moment, let's take a look at the report's findings without questioning how they arrived at the conclusions.

For the five year period ending in 2012 the number of roadside inspections increased by 17% to just over 3 million. During that same period the number of crashes, injuries and deaths prevented only rose at one half that rate. For the same five year period the number of traffic enforcements dropped by 32% and the number of crashes, injuries and deaths prevented dropped by a slightly higher percentage.

If we expand the time period to ten years, the number of roadside inspections goes from 2,253,070 to 3,071,817, an increase of 36%. Yet, during the same period, the number of crashes prevented only increases by 21% while the number of injuries and deaths prevented actually drops. If we take a look at traffic enforcement over the last ten years, the number of stops has dropped by 33% while crashes prevented have dropped 30%, injuries prevented have fallen 43%, and deaths prevented have fallen by 53%.

What is striking is that the 36% increase in roadside inspections has only produced a smaller increase in crash prevention and has had a negative impact on injury and death prevention. It seems that roadside inspections have hit a level of diminishing returns. That's not surprising since it seems highly unlikely that a violation for a burned out license plate light in any way corresponds to crash risk. Yet, the underlying assumption by FMCSA is “each inspection that uncovers and corrects at least one violation is interpreted as having reduced crash risk.” Unfortunately, FMCSA's own statistics don't validate that assumption.

On the other hand, the sharp drop in traffic enforcements has been accompanied by an even higher reduction in injuries and deaths prevented. There doesn't seem to be any mystery in that. It makes sense from a safety and countermeasures point of view to focus on stopping drivers whose driving habits bring them to the attention of police. It just makes sense to put the priority back into traffic enforcement which intuitively and statistically will lead to better outcomes.