American Trucking Associations takes FMCSA to task over CSA
May 23, 2012 - LM Editorial
In all likelihood, the next trucking company that tells me that they just love CSA will be the first one.
As LM has reported, the much maligned government-mandated year-old CSA program, which stands for “Compliance, Safety, Accountability,” was designed to weed out as many as 5 percent—of 150,000 of the nation’s 3 million or so long-haul truck drivers that the feds believe are involved in an disproportionately high number of truck accidents and fatalities.
CSA uses a complex scoring system to rate the nation’s nearly 700,000 DOT-registered interstate trucking entities on seven “Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories,” known as “BASICs.”
Those seven BASICs are: unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, alcohol and drugs, vehicle maintenance, cargo security and crash history. Carriers are given “scores” in each category—higher the score, worse the performance. So-called “warning letters” go out to fleets with scores above 65 (which means that only 35 percent of carriers in their class have worse scores). For hazmat carriers, the cutoff score is 60.
But while this regulation ostensibly has good intentions, it is clear it is falling well short when it comes to how it is being received in trucking circles. My colleague, John D. Schulz, recently wrote that “CSA is suffering growing pains ranging from uneven enforcement to confusion that are causing some shippers to express bewilderment over the exact nature of the entire program.”
The need for changes in CSA were made loud and clear by the American Trucking Associations (ATA) this week, when its Board of Directors formally called on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to make what it said are badly needed changes.
“From the outset, ATA has supported FMCSA’s efforts to improve its enforcement capabilities through CSA,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement. “Through CSA’s development and implementation the agency had been responsive to suggestions and made an effort to improve the program as needed. However, recently our members have become concerned that the agency has become increasingly unresponsive, even in the face of data and logic.”
ATA officials explained how CSA scores are unreliable, have a loose and sometimes inverse connection to crash risk, coupled with the fact that they say the FMCSA is demonstrating an unwillingness to discuss CSA’s flaws.
What’s more, the ATA has identified many CSA-related issues that need to be reformed, including: crash accountability, the lack of research proving increased crash risk for all of CSA’s various violation categories and the publication of carriers’ scores in those categories.
To be sure, anyone that is surprised by this current situation clearly was not paying enough attention in the days, weeks, and months leading up to the CSA rollout and after.
This was made clear when I had the pleasure of moderating a terrific panel at the 2011 Transplace Shipper Symposium in Dallas.
I looked up a story I wrote about the panel and clipped this for today’s blog. This is from Hank Seaton, partner at Seaton & Husk, L.P. in Vienna, Va.
“Shippers are in the crosshairs over this, as the FMCSA and not shippers are responsible for certifying carriers. That is not the impression the shipper community has gotten from CSA 2010. Shippers should expect the federal government to continue its 35-year duty or certifying carriers as safe for your use. The reason for that is when you assume the duty you assume potential liability.”
Seaton added that CSA is highly flawed in its current format, explaining that its current methodology is fatal to the economy, as it destroys the ability of shippers and freight brokers to obtain backhauls in the spot market, increases fuel consumption, increase deadhead mileage. And from month to month, he said it limits shippers’ ability to determine which carrier will be over a CSA threshold, lessening the dependability of using carriers.
Seaton stated that if the existing system is not broken, why fix it, especially when considering that highway deaths involving commercial motor vehicles are at a 35-year low, which he said makes a transition to CSA all the more unnecessary.
“We are going to this new system, because Congress told the FMCSA ‘we need you to be able to reach out and touch the 483,000 carriers you control,” said Seaton. “It only measures 97,000 of the 483,000 carriers. Where are the other 398,000 carriers? Many of them are small but not measured. The system does not meet the congressional requirement…because it measures so few carriers. The reason for concern is that of the 97,000 carriers measured, that includes virtually all of the for-hire carriers that operate more than ten trucks.”
Seaton raises many valid points, not many of which—if any at all—have been answered or dealt with in a meaningful way. The ATA needs to be commended for taking the FMCSA to task here, protecting the best interests of its members, as well as shippers throughout the country.
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