New CSA SMS improvements take effect this week, says FMCSA

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
December 04, 2012 - LM Editorial

Following an August announcement in which it announced multiple pending changes to its much maligned government-mandated CSA program, which stands for “Compliance, Safety, Accountability,” the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said this week that the changes went into effect this week.

CSA was designed to weed out as many as 5 percent—or 150,000—of the nation’s 3 million or so long-haul truck drivers that the feds believe are involved in a 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.”

The seven BASICs are driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, alcohol and drugs, vehicle maintenance, cargo security (now HM Compliance) 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 mean that only 35 percent of carriers in their class have worse scores). For hazmat carriers, the cutoff score is 60.

FMCSA officials said that these changes were based in part on public comments received from a preview of proposed changed to its Safety Management System (SMS) Web site, and they noted that in the first year of CSA enforcement violations per roadside inspection and driver violations per inspection decreased by their largest amounts in ten years at 8 percent and ten percent, respectively, coupled with 30 million visits to the SMS site. And they added that these changes, which were developed over several months with feedback from public and private industry stakeholders, will enhance FMCSA’s ability to identify and take action against trucks and buses with safety and compliance concerns.

The SMS changes taking effect include:
-strengthening the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC (Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories) by incorporating cargo/load securement violations from today’s Cargo-Related BASIC;
-changing the Cargo-related BASIC to the HM (hazardous materials) Compliance BASIC to better identify HM-related safety and compliance problems;
-better aligning the SMS with Intermodal Equipment Provider regulations; and
-more accurately identifying carriers that transport significant quantities of HM, among others.
Along with these SMS-specific changes, FMCSA has identified four other changes that will take effect in September, including:
-removing 1-to-5 mph speeding violations;
-lowering the severity weight for speeding violations that do not designate MPH range above the speed limit;
-aligning paper and electronic logbook violations; and
-changing the name of the Fatigued Driving Hours-of-Service (HOS) BASIC to the HOS Compliance BASIC

FMCSA also announced other CSA-related changes which went into effect in September, including:
-removing 1-to-5 mph speeding violations;
-lowering the severity weight for speeding violations that do not designate MPH range above the speed limit;
-aligning paper and electronic logbook violations; and
-changing the name of the Fatigued Driving Hours-of-Service (HOS) BASIC to the HOS Compliance BASIC

After the August announcement regarding the changes taking effect this week, FMCSA said it provided a four-month preview to allow industry stakeholder to review and offer up comments on the proposed changes to the FMCSA’s SMS, with more than 19,000 companies and 2,900 law enforcement officers participating.

“These SMS enhancements reflect FMCSA’s commitment to listening to our stakeholders and researching and analyzing enhancements in the name of safety,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro in a statement. “By strengthening our cornerstone enforcement program, we are continuing to raise the bar for truck and bus safety.”

But that view is not shared by everyone.

Even with these pending changes, in many trucking circles, the general consensus more than a year after being introduced is that CSA is an ill-conceived plan that is doing nothing more than making it difficult to get things done in an already-challenging environment.

Earlier this year, the American Trucking Associations said that 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.

Jeff Tucker, CEO & Founder at QualifiedCarriers.com & CEO Tucker Company Worldwide Inc. said there are mixed benefits to the coming CSA changes.

“The 1-5 mph speeding violations [being removed] has a chance to be a positive,” he said. “There are many state police pulling carriers over at 1-2 miles over the limit and then tagging them with other violations. It would appear that FMCSA acknowledging one of the bigger issues.”

The cargo-related BASIC, which was changed to HM Compliance Basic, is no longer near the top of the CSA list for safety violations, whereas it was previously its own BASIC category.

Tucker explained this change brings some “credibility” moving forward in the sense that FMCSA may have been overstating the value of certain BASICs. But he said that while these two changes stand to improve CSA, he still remains critical of the program overall on various fronts.

He cited studies from Wells Fargo securities, which note that it is not clear whether the carrier safety performance measures in CSA accurately portray either the risk profile of individual carriers or the likelihood of an accident.

“In fact, according to our analysis of the 200 largest carriers in the CSA database, we find no meaningful statistical relationship between actual accident frequency and BASIC scores for Unsafe Driving, Fatigued Driving or Driver Fitness,” stated a November 2011 Wells Fargo study. “Regardless, carriers must still bear both direct and indirect costs of compliance.”

And a July 2012 Wells Fargo study expanded its carrier dataset to the 4,600 largest North American trucking companies with a minimum of 25 trucks and 50 inspections. The firm said this dataset enabled it to capture both large and small carriers and also ensure that the prescribed regulatory measures are represented and analyzed.

But it found that the findings from the larger dataset only strengthened its conviction that its previous finding from the November 2011 study remained intact and demonstrates more dispersion in the intended results and unintended consequences of the CSA methodology.

“This shows that the BASICs are not driven by any data or science to be good indicators for people to judge driver ratings,” said Tucker. “FMCSA needs to act on this, because as far as I am concerned they are basically instilling fear into the marketplace rather than drive safety. Instead of doing a full compliance review to inspect carriers, FMCSA is using BASICs to determine what carriers they are going to go after and specifically address certain things like HOS or cargo-related things. They have sent out far more warning letters than they ever have before, and they are seeing far more carriers in a given year. What is happening as a result is safety ratings are changing faster than they have ever changed before. They are sending out more letters and intervening more quickly than they ever have before. I think if they admit that BASICs are not meaningful it lessens the threat and thereby carriers will feel the threat is an empty one.”

Transplace CEO Tom Sanderson recently told LM that there continues to be confusion and frustration with CSA, due to the fact that FMCSA continues to change the rules.

“Scores are being published by FMCSA, and shippers are choosing carriers based on those,” he said. It is really unfair to both carriers and shippers to leave scores out there when FMCSA is acknowledging with the ongoing changes being made that CSA is still a work in progress. It should not be in public view until they get it right. You have a lot of small carriers being denied freight because shippers are saying you have an alert or a bad CSA score and cannot move my freight. Those carriers are operating on slim margins and that can hurt capacity. From a liability standpoint for the shippers, whether you are using the scores or not, should an accident or fatality occur, shippers are going to be sued.”



About the Author

John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

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Article Topics

News · Trucking · FMCSA · CSA · All topics

About the Author

Jeff Berman, News Editor
Jeff Berman is Group News Editor for Logistics Management, Modern Materials Handling, and Supply Chain Management Review. Jeff works and lives in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, where he covers all aspects of the supply chain, logistics, freight transportation, and materials handling sectors on a daily basis. Contact Jeff Berman.

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