Between cynicism and hope: Readers, associations weigh in on ramifications of CSA study

James Jaillet and Todd Dills | June 30, 2017

The National Academies of Science on Tuesday issued a report recommending broad changes to the CSA rating system. See its critiques and its recommendations to mend the program at this link.

Trucking industry trade associations this week were quick to note that the conclusions reached by a panel of independent researchers regarding the deficiencies of the U.S. DOT’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability carrier rating program had long been hawked since the program’s 2011 start.

Overdrive readers, however, sounded notes of discouragement with the roadside-inspection program underpinning CSA itself and a perceived disconnect between it and bedrock safety.  High levels of attention paid to an inspection and scoring system many see simply as directing resources to the wrong target. Ronnie Agerton, commenting under the story about the National Academies of Sciences’ (NAS) recent study, noted that “until law enforcement is ordered to target unsafe-distracted-aggressive automobile drivers” for unsafe behaviors around trucks, and in a much bigger way, “they can study and investigate till they retire and nothing will change.”

Another commenter, posting only as Charles, echoed Agerton when he noted “we have databases full of videos of private vehicles (cars) that drive like complete unsafe idiots every day,” perhaps referencing Overdrive‘s own Dashcam Central repository of readers’ on-highway video clips. “What’s being done about them? Nothing.” The commenter added the current truck/driver inspection regime, in his view, is little more than “a system designed to pad the citation stack for revenue generation.”

Key industry concerns from recent years, such as the scores’ public availability, data quality and quantity issues and the methodology used in CSA’s Safety Measurement System — among other flaws noted by researchers from the NAS — were highlighted in the NAS panel’s report, released Tuesday. Congress dictated NAS study the program and issue recommendations to the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration about how it can reform the program to make it more accurate in gauging carriers’ crash risk. See coverage of the report and its recommendations at this link.

“This report has confirmed much of what we have said about the program for some time: The program, while a valuable enforcement tool, has significant shortcomings that must be addressed,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, on Tuesday.

ATA did not call for the program to be scrapped. Instead, like other industry groups, it pressed FMCSA to adopt NAS’ reform recommendations. “We see great potential in the Academies’ recommendation that FMCSA overhaul the current CSA methodology in favor of a new, more adaptive, data-centric model with the potential to address serious flaws in the system,” said ATA’s Sean Garney, director of safety policy.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said in a statement it’s still reviewing the NAS report. But it  “[hopes] the agency will take the suggestions seriously, as it appears the panel agrees with many of our stated concerns about the flawed data used to evaluate the safety of carriers.”

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Report recommends sweeping changes to CSA scoring system

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The Trucking Alliance, a small association made up of some of the country’s largest carriers, says it hopes the agency engages with carriers, particularly those with strong CSA scores, during the reform process. “The NSA report is correct that with improvements in data collection and state enforcement policies, the CSA rating system can lower the number of large truck accidents, fatalities and injuries,” the group said in a statement. “Further, there are thousands of freight transportation companies with outstanding CSA safety ratings, and they will be the best resource to help the FMCSA improve the CSA, rather than carriers with poor safety ratings that simply want to scrap the program and hide their scores from the public.”

Others among Overdrive readers, however, highlighted ongoing related problems in the safety-rating regime, including the Conditional rating purgatory reported on previously. Ronald G. Pyne noted his small fleet was one that was stuck in that purgatory. “Shippers like Walmart, Walgreens and Target won’t use my company even though I have a perfect delivery rating” and his company’s continued ability to operate, despite the rating. “My insurance has gone from $7,400 a year to $24,000, even after I complied and fixed weaknesses, including firing employees who have ruined equipment.”

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Pyne favored a simple Fit/Unfit safety rating structure, which was in fact proposed by FMCSA with its Safety Fitness Determination notice of proposed rulemaking last year. With widespread carrier backlash to that measure’s adoption of the structure of the CSA Safety Measurement System’s BASICs, however, and the Trump administration’s wide deregulatory emphasis, FMCSA officially pulled the SFD proposal in March.

It remains unclear how the NAS study might affect future changes to the Satisfactory/Conditional/Unsatisfactory safety-review/rating regime, if at all.

Update: Safety review continues trend toward the negative, non-ratable

Tom Sanderson of Transplace and the ASECTT group is right in some ways about FMCSA having "doubled down" on its post-CSA policy, particularly with respect ...

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