On the Road Again … CMU’s Greenhouse, Harvard’s Normand Lead Review Panel, Report on Federal Transportation Recommendations

Joel Greenhouse, professor in the department of statistics at Carnegie Mellon University, and Sharon-Lise Normand, professor of health care policy at Harvard University, recently led a 12-member review panel on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) safety measurement system (SMS)—the program used to identify commercial motor vehicle carriers at high risk for future crashes.

Comprised of academicians, research scientists, and transportation experts from across the country, the group conducted a study and produced a subsequent report, titled Improving Motor Carrier Safety Measurement, which found that, while the SMS is conceptually sound, several aspects of its implementation need improvement.

Of the panelists, five are statisticians, showcasing the value of statistics in the development of sound public policy and establishment of consumer safety reforms, as well as the contributions of statisticians in academia that stretch beyond the educational setting.

In the congressionally mandated report, the panel recommends FMCSA develop a more statistically principled approach based on an item response theory (IRT) model—one that has been successfully applied in other fields like hospital rankings. Should the model demonstrate accuracy in identifying suspect motor carriers, the group advises FMCSA to replace its current SMS.

Additional recommendations include the following:

  • FMCSA should continue to collaborate with states and other agencies to improve data collection on vehicle miles traveled (by state and month) and crashes
  • FMCSA should research ways of collecting data on motor vehicle carrier characteristics such as driver turnover rates, type of cargo, and method and level of compensation