Fleets complaining about CSA fine print, uneven enforcement

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
April 18, 2012 - LM Editorial

Few in the trucking industry complain about the goals of the federal government’s most ambitious truck safety program in 30 years. After all, who is against highway safety? And in an era when jury awards in truck fatality lawsuits can exceed $20 million, nobody in the trucking industry can afford to run unsafe trucks with risk-taking drivers.
Compared to truck safety, motherhood and apple pie run a distant second and third in carrier priorities.
But it is the fine print, execution and enforcement of the year-old CSA program that is irking trucking industry leaders and officials. CSA, 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.
“We wholly support the underlying tenets of CSA,” John White, president of U.S. Xpress, the nation’s fifth-largest truckload carrier with $1.57 billion revenue last year, told LM. “We want to drive safety. We want to improve things. We work every day to address safety. It’s the core tenet we operate on every day.”
But White and other top trucking executives say 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.
And it’s one of the few issues that trucking executives, company drivers and owner-operators see eye-to-eye on as the government tries to get it right. At the recent Mid-America Truck Show in Louisville, truck drivers gave Anne Ferro, the well-meaning administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an earful as she tried to explain where the new program is heading.
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.
Already, Ferro is talking about eliminating the cargo security BASIC altogether and replacing it with a hazardous materials score. There are also changes coming in the way driver-only inspections are performed.
Carriers say uneven enforcement among the states can be a huge factor in a fleet’s overall score. Let’s say Arkansas is a state where truck enforcement is stringent and Florida is lax. If a greater percentage of a carrier’s overall miles happen to be in Arkansas rather than Florida, there is a greater likelihood that fleet’s score will be lower on safety.
“There are some challenges in methodology and how scoring is being done,” USX’s White says. “The real issue is does the scoring really point out the bad operators from the good operators? The challenge is now consistency state to state. It can vary. You have some very aggressive high enforcement states and others not as aggressive.”
FMCSA officials are getting credit for listening to the industry’s complaints about CSA. And to its credit, FMCSA says the year-old program is at least partly responsible for 9 percent reduction in roadside safety violations and 12 percent drop in driver violation rates.
To its credit, the trucking industry has largely accepted that officials openly admit is a “work in progress.” Most industry officials have accepted it for what it is—a large government program ripe with errors, overreaches and changes—and have credited FMCSA for being able to listen to industry gripes.
“To FMCSA’s credit, they are listening to the industry, enforcement community and stakeholders,” Bob Petrancosta, vice president of safety for Con-Way Freight, says. Like White of USX, he feels that CSA is a worthwhile endeavor and worth the growing pains to get it right.
A FMCSA spokeswoman, in an email response to LM questions about the program, admitted CSA is in the “early stages” of efforts to better educate shippers, insurers and other stakeholders about truck safety data. She added that FMCSA is “committed to continually improving and refining” the relevant truck safety statistics “as better technology, new data, and continuing analysis provide the means and opportunity for refinement.”
The federal government’s truck safety statistics can be read two ways. Truck-related fatalities per 100 million miles traveled are at their second-lowest point since the government began compiling that data in 1975, but rose last year. Truck-related crashes jumped 9.4 percent over 2010’s figures, according to preliminary DOT figures released recently. The number of truck-related fatalities rose 8.7 percent to 3,675, compared with a record-low of 3,380 in 2010, according to numbers compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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 · FMCSA · CSA · All topics

About the Author

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. John 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.


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