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FMCSA delays new truck ?driver-rating system

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
May 19, 2010

WASHINGTON—The federal government’s proposed Comprehensive Safety Analysis of how it rates trucking companies and drivers is being delayed, much to the relief of the trucking industry, which recently pointed out many flaws in the new rating system.
Dubbed CSA 2010, the new program is now going to be rolled out in phases, starting Nov. 1 and continuing into next year—so the program will effectively become CSA 2011. According to Lana Batts, partner at Transport Capital Partners: “Anytime you name a project after a year you’re setting yourself up to fail. The Department of Transportation has never met a deadline yet, which makes you wonder why they did it.”
Shippers should be concerned about the new safety-rating program for one major reason: It could raise their trucking rates. That’s because the program potentially could reduce the available driver pool by as much as 7 percent, thus reducing truck capacity at a time when the economic recovery is expected to stress the already reduced over-the-road capacity of many fleets.
“As capacity tightens and if 6 percent to 7 percent of current drivers will be ineligible under a new rating system, that will simultaneously affect capacity and rates,” Batts said. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) decided to delay implementation of the new system after alarm bells were rung by the trucking industry over fairness concerns.
“We’re encouraged because this gives FMCSA a little more time so there won’t be any unforeseen problems with the rollout of this program,” said Clayton Boyce, a spokesman for the American Trucking Associations (ATA). The program now starts Nov. 1. At some point in 2011, driver scores will be available to all trucking companies in their hiring and screening process.
However, ATA specifically cited three problems:

1. ?When CSA reports crashes and figures out its scores, it does not take into account who is actually at fault in the crash. A trucker who is rear-ended is scored the same as the trucker who actually causes the crash.

2. ?The way CSA figures risk exposure is based on comparing safety records by the number of trucks a fleet operates. A more accurate rating would be based on the number of miles driven, ATA said.

3. ?Warnings are treated no differently than actual violations. The ATA would prefer warnings and warning tickets that not be counted in the safety rating process.

CSA is based on a system that uses more than 2,200 different variables in accidents. FMCSA tried to weigh those variables to devise a system to rate fleets and drivers. But critics have commented that because the FMCSA accident sample size was small, having a flapping tarp on a flatbed was weighted more heavily than running a stop sign.
“It’s one thing to discus the theoretical of an accident,” Batts said. “It’s something entirely different when you get actual scores from those ratings.”
The upside of the delay is twofold: DOT can fix some of these issues that have beean raised. And it gives the trucking fleets time to understand the new system and how it can affect their capacity and ability to hire competent drivers.
“Clearly there are a lot of guys who haven’t a clue right now,” Batts said.
Results from a recent Transport Capital Partners’ (TCP) survey of truckload carriers showed only half of the carriers were ready for CSA 2010. TCP, a leading firm in transportation mergers and acquisitions, uses the quarterly survey to collect the insights and opinions of executives nationwide in order to report on the current state of the truckload industry and future expectations.
TCP’s survey showed that only half the carriers had reviewed their SafeStat numbers to understand what FMCSA will be reviewing. About one third had already made changes in their safety programs based on these reviews, according to Richard Mikes, a managing partner for TCP.
“Larger carriers appeared to be further along in preparing for changes than smaller carriers, and delaying the implementation of the new regulations will address some carrier concerns and allow time for better understanding and preparation,” said Batts.
The survey found that 41 percent of respondents expect to change the way they monitor sub-performing driving and 29 percent have already changed hiring standards.
CSA 2010 is intended to reduce accidents, injuries, and fatalities. Annual truck inspections and preventative maintenance records will be required along with historical documentation. The idea is that less-than-compliant fleets will be exposed, and their trucks sidelined. Those with poor numbers will be more greatly exposed to truck fleet compliance and roadside inspections, the government said.
One big change coming is that a truck driver’s driving records will now stay with that driver as he moves through different companies. Previously, when a hiring carrier went to check out an applicant, the carrier never got to see what that driver did on the road. Now those records stay with that driver for three years.
“That’s a good thing,” Batts said. “The driver can’t just change jobs and start with a clean slate. It not only affects his job, but it affects his career. If he’s sitting there with 200 points on his or her license, nobody will hire that driver.”
The new rating system potentially could reduce the available legal pool of drivers by 6 percent to 7 percent, according to trucking industry sources.
Drew Anderson is director of sales for Vigillo LLC, Portland, Ore., a technology company that manages data and presents it in an easy-to-digest formula for fleets. It has signed up 1,200 fleets and has analyzed how the new system might impact trucking capacity.
Out of the 500,000 drivers from 1,200 fleets Vigillo has analyzed, Anderson said there are 6 percent of drivers with a rating “score” higher than 90, which would likely make them ineligible under the new safety rating system.

About the Author

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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