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Federal Highway Administration > Publications > Public Roads > Vol. 62· No. 6 > Improving Safety Through Peer Exchanges

May/June 1999
Vol. 62· No. 6

Improving Safety Through Peer Exchanges

by Barbara Kenefake and Ayman Smadi

What Is a Peer Exchange?

In 1994, the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Office of Motor Carriers began a national peer exchange to help identify the "best practices" -- the most successful procedures and techniques -- related to selected specific elements of the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP).

MCSAP is a federal grant program administered by the state transportation and law enforcement agencies in coordination with the Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety (formerly the Office of Motor Carriers) . The purpose of MCSAP is to reduce the numbers and severity of crashes and hazardous-material incidents involving commercial motor vehicles. With the federal grants, the states enhance their existing motor carrier safety programs through roadside inspections of drivers and vehicles, traffic enforcement, public education and awareness efforts, collection of data, and compliance reviews.

A "peer exchange" is an effective forum for exchanging information and encouraging creativity. Motor carrier safety experts from federal and state agencies and the trucking industry identify the best practices of a specific part of the MCSAP program and share those practices with other interested parties. This process has proven to be an excellent example of partnership and teamwork. It is a way to benefit from others' experiences in order to avoid "reinventing the wheel." Furthermore, it has contributed to raising the awareness of various safety partners about the different perspectives, approaches, and challenges to motor carrier safety.

Third national peer exchange.Representatives of FHWA, state transportation and law enforcement agencies, industry, and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance assembe for the kickoff of the third national peer exchange, which focused on educational and technical assistance.

The members of the peer exchange team bring their knowledge and experience to the project to gather relevant information through site visits, interviews, and other mechanisms and then to identify and document the best practices. Team members have valued this experience, and many return to their respective organizations with ideas and practices to incorporate into their own programs.

The best practices identified in the peer exchange reports are not intended to be a standard prescription to solve all motor carrier safety problems. On the contrary, they are flexible tools that can be effectively tailored to fit the individual agency's or organization's needs.

As the MCSAP grant program moves toward performance-based programs, states are encouraged to evaluate their current programs and activities in order to establish baselines. After incorporating the appropriate best practices contained in the peer exchange reports, states may then analyze the effectiveness of these practices against the established baselines. States can determine which practices yield the greatest improvement.

The Third National Peer Exchange -- Education and Technical Assistance

Exchanging Information.
An inspector and a commerical vehicle driver change information.

The third in an ongoing series of national peer exchanges was successfully completed recently. The subject of the peer exchange was education and technical assistance (ETA) to motor carriers and commercial vehicle drivers. The exchange was hosted by the Utah Department of Transportation and facilitated by the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University. The peer exchange team consisted of representatives from Alabama, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Tennessee, Utah, and Wisconsin and from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, J&W Safety Consulting, and Landstar System Inc.

The ETA peer exchange set out with two main objectives: (1) to identify best practices for providing effective educational and technical assistance to commercial drivers and motor carriers and (2) to disseminate information on the best practices to states and private industry. The scope of ETA practices covered in the peer exchange included: ! Federal, state, and industry innovative outreach programs.

  • Federal, state, and industry training programs for drivers and motor carriers.
  • Informational materials (such as brochures, handouts, manuals, and pamphlets) distributed and available to drivers and motor carriers.
  • Innovative technologies used to provide training and outreach to drivers and motor carriers.
  • Federal, state, and industry partnerships and coordination to implement training and outreach programs.
  • Public awareness campaigns (such as the "No Zone") and outreach programs targeted at shippers or transportation brokers.

The peer exchange team visited seven states -- California, Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Utah -- and heard presentations by officials from Colorado. In addition, in conjunction with some state site visits, several private trucking companies, including C.R. England in Salt Lake City; Dart Transit in St. Paul, Minn.; Dick Simon Trucking in Salt Lake City; and Landstar Inway in Rockford, Ill., were visited. Other trucking companies, trucking associations, and truck-driving schools presented their ETA programs at peer exchange meetings held during the site visits, and their representatives shared some of their experiences with the team.

Computer in use at inspection sites.
An inspector uses pen-based computer technology at the inspection site.

A final report that documents the project's findings and recommendations is now available. The report identifies and provides examples of available print materials (pamphlets, brochures, handbooks, and manuals); training programs; innovative delivery methods; outreach and awareness efforts; and partnership, coordination, and cooperation activities.

The report is also available on the Internet at the project's Web site http://www.cmv-eta.org). The site was set up to allow access to the complete report and to provide links to federal, state, and private organizations. The Web site also has many illustrations and pictures of examples of available ETA informational materials found during the project.

Best Practices Found in the Third Exchange

Here are some examples of "best practices" found during the ETA peer exchange. More in-depth information on these and other practices can be found at the Web site.

A Model Program

Minnesota's ETA program includes all of the basic components necessary for an effective and well-structured ETA program, and the peer exchange team cited the program in Minnesota as a model for other states. The final report includes a flow chart that depicts the main steps in Minnesota's program; provides the highlights of the program's major components; and describes the program's goals and functions, program development and evaluation, information in print, staffing, training, and delivery and distribution methods. Minnesota also has telephone help lines, such as the Truck Center 1-888-4SAFETY, and other numbers for information services , State Patrol information, prorate office, and over-dimension permits that are listed in the final report and on the project's Web site. Also, additional information is available from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (DOT) Web site (http://www.dot.state.mn.us/trim/mcs/).

Demonstration of braking system components on trucks.
At the Minnesota Brake Equipment Laboratory, peer exchange team members observe a demonstration of braking system components on trucks.

Handbooks

Almost every state visited by the peer exchange team had some type of "trucking handbook." Generally, these publications cover motor carrier safety regulations in the state and may include some information from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

In addition, "Partnerships in Highway Safety," FHWA's principal publication on motor carrier education and technical assistance, was found to be a popular document to use in the first contact with a carrier in most states visited. This publication provides motor carriers with a comprehensive source of information on FMCSRs. It can also be found on the Internet (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/omc/pihs/index.htm).

Pamphlets

Some of the publications identified during the peer exchange focus on a single issue and provide a quick reference and reminder to the users. The publications are primarily aimed at raising awareness rather than providing detailed technical information, and they are usually designed using color schemes and graphics to attract the attention of the intended readers. Examples include the "Run-Away Truck Ramps" brochure (Colorado), "Introduction to Safety" (California), "Shipper Outreach for Safety (SOS)" (Utah, FHWA-Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety [OMCHS]), "No-Zone" (FHWA-OMCHS), "Awake at the Wheel" (Maryland, Utah), "If You Drive One of These" (Minnesota), "Commercial Driver License (CDL) in a Nutshell" (Iowa), and "How To Pamphlets" (Pennsylvania).

Publications

Special-purpose publications target a specific topic, issue, or audience. These publications tend to provide information beyond regulatory requirements and guidance on how to comply with the regulations or meet requirements. Some examples of these publications include, but are not limited to: Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) Preventable Accident Manual (FHWA-OMCHS); Accident Countermeasures (FHWA-OMCHS); 1998 Brake Training Resource Directory (FHWA-MC-98-007); Technician Guidelines for Antilock Braking Systems: Air-Braked Trucks, Tractors and Trailers (FHWA-MC-98-008); Hazardous Material Workbook (Minnesota); Drug and Alcohol Testing (Pennsylvania); Terminal Inspection Checklist (California); Inspectors Guide for Inspections With Spanish-Speaking Drivers (FHWA-OMCHS); and North American Driver/Vehicle Inspection Criteria (Colorado).

Technology

Advancements in information technology are revolutionizing information processing, delivery, and access. At the forefront of this information revolution is the Internet, which provides an effective and economical medium for reaching a wide audience with extensive information. The key is access to information when/where the user needs it. There was strong testimony from the site visits to the growing use of the Internet, computer presentations, facsimile, video-conferencing, and telephone help lines -- for example, for Colorado, 1-800-332-2088; Iowa, 1-800-925-6469; Minnesota, 1-888-4SAFETY; and FHWA-OMCHS, 1-800-832-5660.

The "Most Innovative, Cost-Effective Way"

To date, including all three national peer exchanges, 22 different states have participated; site visits in 26 states have been conducted; and 44 federal, state, and industry personnel have participated as delegates or alternates. Testimonies to the effectiveness of this program are featured throughout this article. Program officials are quite please to receive feedback such as the following quote from Utah DOT's Rick Gardner, a 27-year veteran of law enforcement and government service: "The peer exchange, in my opinion, is by far the most innovative, cost-effective way to examine an area of interest and produce beneficial results for safer highways and promote safety in the trucking industry."

Other Peer Exchanges

The first peer exchange began in September 1994 on the subject of out-of-service (OOS) verification. The South Carolina Department of Public Safety served as the host agency and the University of South Carolina College of Criminal Justice acted as the project consultant. Representatives of eight states (Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina, and Utah), the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Alliance, and FHWA participated in that project to identify those states' best practices in OOS verification. The team recommended 47 different effective strategies to enhance the OOS verification programs used by MCSAP agencies. The strategies were grouped into five categories: education, prevention, enforcement, sanctions, and reviews of the motor carrier.

Beginning in November 1995, the second national peer exchange focused on hours of service (HOS), and it was hosted by the North Dakota Highway Patrol. The Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute at North Dakota State University was a project consultant. The project included participants from 11 states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming), the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Alliance, and FHWA. The team identified seven major elements of HOS compliance, based on the various activities of federal and state agencies. These elements are program management, roadside enforcement, compliance reviews, training, data analysis, technology, and industry outreach.

Reports on the peer exchanges can be obtained by writing to the Federal Highway Administration, Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety, National and International Safety Programs, 400 7th Street, SW., Room 3419, Washington, DC 20590 or via e-mail from Barbara.Kenefake@fhwa.dot.gov. The pamphlet "What Is a Peer Exchange" can also be obtained from the same address.

Barbara Kenefake is a transportation specialist in FHWA's Office of Motor Carrier and Highway Safety, National and International Safety Programs. She has been involved with the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) since 1991. All of her career has been within the U.S. Department of Transportation; previously, she worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration.

Dr. Ayman Smadi is a research associate at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute, North Dakota State University. He has been the project consultant for the "Hours of Service" and the "Education and Technical Assistance" peer exchanges. He is an adjunct professor in civil engineering and teaches graduate transportation courses. He earned his doctorate in civil engineering at Iowa State University.

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