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Are private fleets about to hit a wall?

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
March 01, 2011

Not since deregulation…
Trucking veterans say CSA 2010 has the potential to be the biggest thing to affect the industry in three decades of deregulation. The ramifications of CSA are multifold—legal, operational, planning, and financial.

First, let’s look at some of the myths associated with CSA: it will kill the trucking industry; that no one will make any money after CSA starts rating everyone; more “good” drivers will lose their jobs; that it was begun to create more government revenue; and that you have nothing to worry about if you’re a carrier with a current “satisfactory rating.”

It is none of that. In reality it’s a sophisticated program that will use technology to gather data collected at roadside inspections and through crash reports to identify unsafe carriers and drivers in an attempt to pinpoint their exact problems.

In short, it gives the federal government and state enforcement personnel more accurate tools to cite and crack down on the estimated 150,000 “bad apples” who give truck driving a bad name and are involved in a disproportionately high percentage of accidents that lead to the 40,000 or so truck-related fatalities every year.

It takes the best points of the current audit system and enhances and supplements it with other tools in an attempt to improve truck fleet safety through a less intrusive, more focused fashion. Data involving fleets and individual drivers will be uploaded monthly, creating more visibility and accountability on both sides.

The system’s methodology is complicated but can be summarized in three words—more, better, faster.

“It’s just a new way of accounting for the rules,” says Tom Moore, executive director of the NPTC Institute and vice president of public affairs. “It creates a minimum standard of truck safety compliance. But our members are so far beyond these minimum levels. If you’re already above and beyond and over the top, it’s not going to be a huge adjustment.”

Still, there will be adjustments. Individual driving records will be available to both carriers and shippers. Private fleet drivers average about three more years of driving experience at their current companies, and managers say the advent of CSA will cause them to work even harder to keep the good drivers they already employ. “Drivers are going to be given better pay, better equipment, more sophisticated technology, and other incentives that make the job worth keeping,” Petty predicts.

Fleet managers agree. Kraft Foods’ Willert predicts that the shorter length of haul and more regular schedule that characterize many private fleet operations tends to attract very well qualified drivers and minimizes turnover—Kraft Foods’ driver turnover is less than 5 percent, compared to around 100 percent for truckload sector in total.

“In that respect we would anticipate that private fleets as a group may be less affected than contract carriers,” Willert says. However, this could change though with the aging workforce and eventual need to replace current drivers.

Kraft Foods is one of thousands of private fleets directly affected by the changes, however. As Willert explained: “The vast majority of our freight is handled by contract carriers. As such, we are putting in place enhanced monitoring of CSA scores as well as considering changes to our contract language to reflect the new expectations. In the case of our private fleet, the safety and compliance programs we’ve had in place—electronic logs, regular safety training, and incentives based on safety performance—mean that for the most part it has just been a matter of educating our team on the new expectations.”

Jim Angel is a former private fleet manager with Atrium Co., a manufacturer of aluminum and vinyl doors and windows. Angel currently is product manager of safety and compliance for PeopleNet, a provider of Internet-based and integrated onboard computing and mobile communications systems for fleet management. He sees a stark difference between the safety cultures at the top private fleets compared with the typical for-hire carrier.

“Private fleets have the name of their company on the side of the trailer in huge letters,” Angel says. “They have much better control of their operations. They’re willing to use speed governors. They’re interested in better fuel mileage. On the flip side, the for-hire guys hanging on by a shoestring are just interested in survival.”

If survivability isn’t the main concern on the private fleet side, profitability surely is. Kraft Foods is one of many well-run private fleets taking early steps to educate its work force about CSA ramifications when it is fully implemented later this year.

“We’re focusing on educating our management teams and driver groups,” Kraft’s Willert says. “Through these discussions our people have given us ideas on what we can do to help them—such as the development of a maintenance kit that drivers can use on the road for small repairs or quick fixes that will get them to a shop. The conversations have also allowed the drivers to ask questions and share their concerns.”

Kraft has also developed computer-based training for employees and tied this to an incentive program where employees are awarded points to use for prizes for completing the training. “We are also monitoring our data and promptly addressing any issues that arise,” Willert says.

About the Author

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John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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Article Topics

· Trucking · March 2011 · Transportation · HOS · CSA 2010 · All topics

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