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Truckers, shippers brace for tougher safety standards, less capacity as CSA kicks in gear for 2011

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
November 15, 2010

The trucking industry could lose significant capacity as more drivers are facing disqualification as the federal government initiates tough safety standards in December and truly rolls them out during 2011.
That’s because the federal government is poised to launch the toughest safety crackdown on the estimated 3 million long-haul truck drivers and 800,000 carriers in the history of the industry.
Called CSA (shorthand for Comprehensive Safety Analysis), the initiative is expected to perhaps eliminate as much as 5 percent of trucking capacity as the “worst of the worst” drivers are banned from interstate trucking.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration administrator Anne Ferro is committed to raising the bar to entry into the trucking industry, maintaining high safety standards to stay in the industry and removing high-risk operators from the road. Every year some 40,000 new entrants come into the trucking industry to replace just about the same number that exit the industry annually.
Already, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, truck-related fatalities dropped 20 percent to 3,380 in 2009, the third straight year it has set a record low.
Increased oversight by the federal government, greater enforcement of hours of service regulations, greater seat belt usage, improved safety features, crackdowns on drunken, drugged and distracted driving, greater education among the industry and driving public are all cited as reasons for the decline.
But that hardly means the feds are satisfied.
“These are excellent numbers but shouldn’t the goal be to get down to no fatalities,” says Darrell Ruban, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration field administrator and a former LTL carrier executive. “That’s our goal.”
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro recently told a gathering of trucking executives in Phoenix that despite some fleets’ desire to go softer on CSA in regarding to publishing unsafe fleets’ overall safety scores, such scores will be posted as scheduled next year.
It’s all part of the Obama administration’s crackdown on trucking regulations. It’s why the federal government is changing (again) the HOS regulations, changing new entrant motor carrier safety assurance processes, and is poised to issue new regulations on electronic on-board recorders.
“To us, the future is electronic on-board recorders,” Ruban said.
CSA is changing the way the government regulates truck safety. CSA “gives us a few more tools in our toolbox” to regulate truck safety, with emphasis on unsafe fleets and drivers. It involves three core components:
-New way to assess carrier safety to address why truck accidents are happening.
-New intervention process with an array of interventions, instead of the current compliance review.
-New approach to safety fitness determination tied to current safety performance of fleets, not limited to results from a compliance review.
“It’s going to save us a lot of time,” Ruban said. “It’s going to be more efficient.”
A new safety measurement system is at the heart of CSA. It uses all crash records and all roadside inspection data are used and assigned weights to time and severity of violations. It then calculates a safety performance based on seven basic standards that replaces the current SafeStat system. This also will include specific driver information. A low score will trigger an intervention process that will eventually feed into FMCSA’s evaluation. 

“We are going to have driver shortages,” says Noel Perry, an economist with Transportation Research Consulting Group, and a former executive with Schneider National and other transport companies.
The seven standards are behaviors linked to crash risk—unsafe driving, fatigued driving (HOS), driver fitness, controlled substances/alcohol, vehicle maintenance, cargo-related factors and crash indicators.
The reality is the information will be out there for employers. Even shippers eventually will be able to access that information, FMCSA says.
Individual drivers will not be available to the public, federal government officials say. But a driver with an unsafe record will affect a company’s crash ratio rating.
“If you’re bad enough, we’ll prosecute you,” says Tom Marlow, FMCSA Georgia administrator. “We’re going to get rid of them.
Currently SafeStat assesses only carriers. Under CSA, the system will address carriers and drivers. A driver’s safety performance will be used by investigators to identify drivers with safety problems uncovered during carrier investigators.
Every carrier will be given a percentile rank within industry types. In other words, dry vans will be compared only with dry van operators, tank operators with other tank operators, etc.
Quality data is the key to CSA’s operational model, government officials say. FMCSA began collective comprehensive data about five years ago. The new process is expected to give the government new intervention tools including offsite investigations to determine a safety fitness determination/ Instead of the current satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory ratings, a new rating system will be unveiled—unfit, marginal or continue to operate.
Currently nine states are in the pilot program as CSA is rolled out in phases through 2011.

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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Article Topics

News · Trucking · Driver Shortage · HOS · CSA · All topics


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