Crashes and interventions: CSA’s crash flaw

| May 06, 2013

The article below is part of an ongoing, in-depth series on the U.S. Department of Transportation's Compliance, Safety, Accountability program that analyzes federal inspection, investigation and crash data and offers original reporting. Overdrive and CCJ editors have built a site dedicated to hosting the stories, interactive maps and downloadable data at CCJdigital.com/csa.

Previously in the CSA’s Data Trail “Crashes and interventions” installment: “Blitzkrieg probes coming to trucking”

Roll-over crash scene

The largest truck fleets show crash rates well above that of one-truck carriers, yet the megafleet trucks and drivers are inspected at only a fourth of the rate of the single-truck operations, according to Overdrive’s analysis of federal data. Single-truck independent drivers, the safest group on the highway, are 3.5 times more likely to be put out of service than drivers for carriers with 500 or more trucks.

Driver out-of-service- and crash-rate disconnectThe carrier crash data was compiled by Overdrive publisher Randall-Reilly Business Media’s RigDig Business Intelligence unit (rigdig.com/bi). It covers the first two years of the Compliance Safety Accountability program, launched in December 2010 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

FMCSA official Duane Debruyne declined to comment on any aspect of Overdrive‘s analysis.

For one-truck operators, these enforcement disparities entail not simply the day-to-day hassles of dealing with a well-armed regulatory regime. The bad ratings that come with violations and out-of-service orders make it increasingly difficult to secure freight in a safety-scoring landscape tilted in favor of their larger competitors.

Who's crashing - accidents injuries and fatalities by carrier size

Click through the chart above for a larger view. SOURCE: RigDig Business Intelligence (rigdig.com/bi) and Overdrive analysis of federally recordable truck-involved crash data for years 2010-12. Carriers represented include the total registered population with at least one inspection over the course of those years and with some version of for-hire operating authority.

While single-truck operators are the safest, accident rates – measured per million miles traveled – spike when those operators start adding trucks. The highest rates were found in fleets of two to 15 trucks. This isn’t surprising, given that fleets in that range often have no full-time manager outside of a truck – let alone a full-time safety director – and may in many instances tend toward less-restrictive prospective-driver screening.

But at the extreme ends of carrier size, the disconnect between driver out-of-service rates and carrier crash rates highlights seemingly intractable problems for small fleets at roadside, says Richard Wilson, regulatory manager with Trans Products Trans Services. Wilson believes, as do others, that too many inspectors, as well as FMCSA investigators, view small fleets as low-hanging fruit. For inspectors, the small fleets are easy revenue through citations. For investigators, it’s the numbers game – activity measured by fleet count – public agencies play to justify their existence.

Nearly a fifth of owner-operators have a Crash Indicator BASIC percentile ranking at or above the intervention threshold of 60 for placardable hazmat carriers (65 for all carriers), according to an April survey conducted at OverdriveOnline.com. To compare the above chart with inspection/scoring data broken down in the same carrier size groups, scan the QR code with your smartphone or tablet, or visit OverdriveOnline.com and search “CSA vs. the independent.”

Nearly a fifth of owner-operators have a Crash Indicator BASIC percentile ranking at or above the intervention threshold of 60 for placardable hazmat carriers (65 for all carriers), according to an April survey conducted at OverdriveOnline.com. To compare the above chart with inspection/scoring data broken down in the same carrier size groups, follow this link for the “CSA vs. the independent” story in the CSA’s Data Trail series March “Inconsistent enforcement” installment.

“The larger carriers with full safety staffs and supported by big trucking organizations have an advantage because they’re labor-intensive for FMCSA investigative staff,” Wilson says. “They’re time-consuming, and for the value of the amount of violations found and the amount of people FMCSA will have to put in place to do it, they become unfeasible. … It’s much more efficient to compile large numbers of interventions on smaller carriers that provide the numbers necessary to meet the standards of the budget offices.”

Speaking at the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance spring meeting in Louisville, Ky., FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement Bill Quade, however, suggested that the agency’s outsize attention to small carriers is just a reflection of the industry’s makeup, given that most entities involved in trucking are in fact small.

The stellar accident record of one-truck independents, in some sense, is to be expected. “A guy that owns his own truck has his life savings in that truck” in many cases, says Phil McGuire, president of Texas-based McGuire Transportation, which has roughly a 100-truck mix of owner-operator and (mostly) company-owned trucks. “He doesn’t want to put a scratch on it, much less be in an accident.” Managing only yourself, McGuire adds, “you can do a lot better” keeping a handle on safety.

When carriers of any size have negative CSA percentile rankings in the public BASICs  (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories), brokers, shippers and insurance companies now are more interested. J. Webb Kline, owner of a Pennsylvania-based six-truck fleet, said in February he’d lost in the neighborhood of “$1.5 million in sales over the past year because brokers and shippers look at our score [in the Hours of Service Compliance BASIC] and think we’re high risk. And we lost some of our best accounts because they aren’t allowed to load our trucks, even though they need them.”

How the Crash Indicator works
Carriers must have had at least two DOT-recordable crashes – those involving a towaway, an injury or a fatality – in the past two years to obtain a percentile ranking in the Crash Indicator BASIC. Access to that private number can be obtained by logging into your carrier profile with your DOT-issued PIN via csa.fmcsa.dot.gov, then clicking “CSA Login” at top right.

FMCSA assigns a severity weighting of 1 point for each towaway crash, 2 points for each crash involving an injury or a fatality. It adds 1 point if there was a hazardous materials release associated with the crash. The agency then multiplies the points total for each crash by a time-weighting factor of 1, 2 or 3 depending on whether it occurred between 24 and 12 months ago, 12 months and 6 months ago, or during the most recent 6 months. Subsequent calculations then attempt to normalize the crash rates by carrier exposure, using carriers’ self-reported number of power units and annual vehicle-miles-traveled.Officials say it’s important to keep those self-reported census numbers current during annual or more frequent updates to carrier MCS-150 forms. For more on the importance of maintaining carrier census data used in computation of both Crash Indicator and Unsafe Driving CSA BASIC scores, follow this link for the March “CSA’s Data Trail” installment dedicated to the subject.

Kline’s ranking problem was primarily the public Hours BASIC, with scoring information visible to anyone with a Web connection. FMCSA continues to keep ranking data private in the Crash Indicator BASIC, but carriers’ federally recordable crash data – minus the ranking and any indication of who was at fault in the accident – still is listed in full one click away from the main pages of carriers’ public CSA profiles in the Safety Measurement System.

“Profit from CSA in being able to bid out your business better – or CSA will profit from you,” says David Saunders, chief executive officer of Texas-headquartered Compliance Safety Systems, which administers drug and alcohol screening programs for carriers. “Small and large carriers will have to defend themselves with customers. Say my [public BASICs] are high as a small carrier, but I don’t have a high crash rate with DOT recordables – ‘Why won’t you do business with me?’ ”

The Crash Indicator BASIC is one where owner-operators, carriers and drivers with a fairly clean crash history can benefit, says Saunders. That’s often true even for those, like Kline, with high scores in other BASICs.

The largest all-leased-owner-operator carrier in the nation, Landstar System, was able to exploit its Crash Indicator ranking, says Joe Beacom, vice president of safety. In 2012, Landstar Inway, one of the company’s primary truckload fleets, moved above the intervention/alert threshold in the Hours of Service Compliance BASIC.

That raised concerns for some shippers and also marked the carrier for federal attention. Landstar began to voluntarily show shippers its private Crash Indicator percentile ranking as a way to prove its safety in ways other BASICs didn’t. “It’s 9 or so – the top 10 percent best in accident frequency in the peer group,” Beacom said earlier this year.

Landstar also began requiring use of electronic onboard recorders for hours monitoring for all new lessees with Inway and Ranger, its other primary truckload fleet. This helped turn Inway’s score around and put it back below threshold.

Is there a DOT-recordable crash on your record?For small fleets with a few accidents that were not their fault, however, the opposite of Landstar’s case may well be true. Independent owner-operator Melvin Davis tells of his father’s four-truck BMD Inc. fleet, based in Michigan. Despite having a virtually perfect CSA profile – with none of the five public BASICs registering any score whatsoever – BMD has seen two accidents associated with one of its drivers in the past two years.

“Neither one of the accidents were his fault,” Davis says. “The first one definitely wasn’t, as a woman spun out on the ice in front of him. The second one was in Indianapolis on a blind curve” where traffic had stopped unexpectedly. “He was never charged with the accident,” says Davis.

And yet both accidents are part of BMD’s Crash Indicator score because there is no accounting for blame in that scoring.

“If it’s not your fault, how can you be slammed for it?” Davis asks, reflecting the opinion of many in the industry.

The conclusion of FMCSA’s research into whether it can start to account for fault in carrier crash data is due this year. Speaking to the Maryland Motor Truck Association’s Western Maryland Chapter in December 2011, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said the goal of the research “is to code every interstate motor carrier crash as either ‘accountable’ or ‘not accountable’ to the motor carrier and the driver. However, this is an enormous task, and it will take time to implement.” Since then, Ferro has been less emphatic about the goals of the crash-accountability study. Other representatives in the agency have started questioning whether such an accounting is even possible in many cases.

Scott Lawrence damageYou don’t have to look far to find an owner-operator who’s gone decades without being in a crash. Until February, that was the case for Utah-based Aegirson Enterprises owner-operator Scott Lawrence, whose last crash had occurred in Oregon in 1987. That one wasn’t his fault, either. The driver was “high as a kite” and suddenly turned into the truck, Lawrence says.

Lawrence’s 25-year-plus run of no crashes came to an end in February. Driving near Twin Falls, Idaho, he saw in his left mirror a four-wheeler “following me and flashing his lights,” he says. When Lawrence slowed to allow the four-wheeler to pass, he realized the car somehow had become attached to the driver-side bumper of his trailer. He slowed further, and the vehicle disappeared from view.

Then, via his right mirror, Lawrence saw lights in the ditch, and he stopped. “They came walking up to me, this young kid and his girlfriend,” he recalls. The couple was unhurt and “tried to say I’d drifted out of my lane.” But an officer who drove the length of the accident three times over the subsequent investigation eventually pronounced the four-wheelers at fault for excessive speed and inattention.

Working with CCJ and RigDig Business Intelligence, a division of Overdrive publisher Randall-Reilly Business Media, we analyzed crash data over years 2010-12 and inspection and scoring data covering CSA’s first two years. Find further “Crashes and interventions” installments via this page, where you can also access interactive maps for crash and inspection data and downloads for such data for all 48 continental U.S. states.

Working with CCJ and RigDig Business Intelligence, a division of Overdrive publisher Randall-Reilly Business Media, we analyzed crash data over years 2010-12 and inspection and scoring data covering CSA’s first two years. Find further “Crashes and interventions” installments via this page, where you can also access interactive maps for crash and inspection data and downloads for such data for all 48 continental U.S. states.

Still, given that the couples’ four-wheeler was towed away from the scene, the crash now is listed one click away from the front page of Lawrence’s carrier profile in FMCSA’s public CSA SMS.

For carriers with crashes on the record, says Saunders, the other crucial piece of the carrier self-defense pie relative to CSA is the driver and vehicle out-of-service rate. “Rather than being hung up on how un-American CSA is and how the federal government messed up, polish the image of who you are as a company and a driver,” he says. “Look for a way to position yourself as a driver and as a company to … be able to tell a shipper or insurance company” you’re dependable.

“If every time I get in that truck I have a chance of being put out of service because I violated a rule, that shipper won’t conduct business with me,” Saunders adds. “The insurance company won’t work with me.”

 

Next up in the “Crashes and interventions” installment of the CSA’s Data Trail series: “Wreck frequency varies widely by state.”

  • Pingback: CSA Crash Data

  • http://www.facebook.com/bruce.kolinski Bruce Kolinski

    Unfortunately, we see CSA as yet another example of a Federal regulatory agency acting as monopoly enforcement, sanctioning government sponsored favorites with monopoly rights. Our Republic has mutated into a form of reverse fascism where insiders bundle money, purchasing favors from our so-called elected representatives, who then stand by as regulatory agencies enforce the favors.

    This whole sickening process is the direct result of career politicians, which our Founders never envisioned. Maybe we should be thinking “term limits”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000251528122 Richard Wilson

    The CSA crash factor is based on Recordable not fault. the same committee that says that Enforcement has no resources to determine fault or EXPERIENCE in investigating then how can that same non trained Inspectors be required to determine if a driver has to take a post accident based on recordable and charges, if they can’ t or won’t determine fault, they have to determine fault to charge so a company can stay compliant by testing based on criteria of Recordable, if a victim is injured and transported and if a vehicle is towed due to damage incurred by the accident and your driver is charged you must post accident drug and alcohol test them in a set time frame, well…… if they are not smart enough to determine fault in the crash basic and we cannot take those un-charged crashes off the crash score (which by the way is not PRIVATE) then how are they intelligent enough to determine fault to be compliant to test??????? Seems I smell smoke here ( or a lack of wanting to be responsible)

  • odiillc

    there are alot of storys like mine i know…i am a 33 year vet in the trucking industry i have seen so many changes in my time and i have been able to be adversable with most. after csa started and the realization hit me..in the flash of an instant my driving for a living could end do to someone else’s mistake it was time for me to think hard about my feature and it was a hard choice. i had my own athority with exelant score no problems truck and trailer in good shape and paid for..a year ago i parked them. they are sitting in the lot at the shop. and now i run a golf course and fab shop. CSA took away my confidence that i needed to plan a feature in the industry. my name is mike thatcher i am the owner of odiillc. i was a safe driver with experiance and completely clean safe driving history and i nolonger drive a truck and it makes me mad.

  • Robert Barnes

    I this week had a chat with a officer in NM that said we set the stage. when asked he said that a pannel. sets the guidlines then I asked was it a company panel Because as an independent with my own company they wont listen to a word that is said when i said it was all big companys that was setting the stage and how it was to take the independent out of the eqasion. he couldnt get away quick enough now you tell me my equipment is about payed off after 27 yrs just makes me sick what the gov has done to this endusty. and the young people want nothing to do with it.

  • bigred

    I was told this morning after my 2nd lvl 1 inspection in less than 10 days that “I am an o/o with my own authority, one truck and i drive a “pete”. Reason for me being inspected so much,,,,15 inspections in less than 2 years,no crashes,no log book violations, no tickets(all this in last 12 years anyway),,,,,,so they want to ruin me on inspections on my 2004 pete

  • http://www.facebook.com/eddie.l.conrad.cathymcc Eddie L Conrad

    I,was listening to the fmcsa on Dave Nemo,the other day,& from i could gather those people don’t know their head from a hole in the ground about how to drive a CMV ,yet set in DC telling us how to do our jobs,when they can’t even do their own.I have been in trucking over 40 yrs,& proud of it.There was nothing wrong with the old HOS,AS THERE nothing wrong with them now.I blame alot of our problems on dispatchers that don’t the 1st thing about how to even start up a big truck,much less driver,cause they are so afraid to try it before they can tell us how to do our jobs, shippers and receivers are just as much to blame for our getting in and out of pick up and delivery points on time. Cause they also don’t care about our hours of service, no more than FMCSA does. FMCSA wants to tell us when to go to bed, when to get up and they couldn’t do it and it would scare the living daylights out of them if they so much as climbed into a big truck.

  • No Reform

    Crash predictability will be difficult with 100% annual turnover the dynamics change….their is no “contant” in the Driver section…not like Old union guys who stay year after year.
    The CSA system is actually rather silly.

  • No Reform

    True..our system is Corrupt and favors the Rich.

  • No Reform

    Actually you are LUCKY and saw the Light!!! No future in trucking now….forget about it…enjoy life..this industry has gotten too stressful and rediculous.

  • No Reform

    Yep they want you to lease on to a Mega fleet…and be an obediant slave.

  • No Reform

    True…they like to Hire dispatchers from Fast Food businesses…coz they are good at faced paced environment and LOW PAY…and hanging around the office with MORONS….trucking is basically a pathetic Joke today.

  • Shear’Ree

    This answer is very simple… elogs are DANGEROUS! The o/o’s on paper can take a nap when ever fatigue sets in. Elog’s force the driver to drive fatigue’d – And that’s fact!
    If they want to make the elog work,again, SIMPLE!
    First abolish the 14 hour rule (it’s worthless) make the drive time from 11 hours to 12 hours in a 24 hour period, however, when the driver stops – the clock stops. This will eliminate the rush.
    At the end of the drivers 12 hour drive thime within the 24 hour priod, the drive can take his 10 hour break and at the end of 70 hours of drive time, the driver can take the 34 hour break.
    This will create a constant refreshed driver and again, eliminate the rush.
    Note: My opinion of this 2 midnights for a 34 restart will do nothing for the driver, except to lose more money, and push the driver even more. The 30 minute break is useless as well – drivers break for many different reasons anyways.
    Shear’Ree
    ShearRee@aolcom

  • easymoney

    I’m with you mike I drove for 42 yrs. I watched as you did all the changes. I started driving in 68.
    I was an owner operator in the 70′s I’m retired now
    an now taking a course in computer lap top repairs
    to keep me busy. Most owner ops feel as you do but
    have no other ways to go.Give them time an more will be leaving their trucks in the front yard Good luck to you in your future interests. shortchange said all that

  • Name

    The Highway Patrol picks on the independent owner operators because they know we don’t have unlimit resources to appeal the violations they slap on us. The big companies have teams of attorneys in every state to fight off infractions. An Officer only has to be made to look like a monkeys uncle a couple of time before he goes for the easy pickens. I’ve never had a crash in my life. I had a an inspector put me out of service for a burned out trailer turn signal light. I had a spare bulb with me, and it took me a minute to replace it, but now the violations shows on my CSA score. The same inspector served me a violation because he didn’t understand how to test the ABS light on my 13 year old trailer. He won’t listen to me when I tried to explain the proper testing procedure. Now I have a CSA for that too. I submitted Dataq for both these issues and I got no response from FMCSA. Later, when I tried to log back on to the Dataq system to get an update, my account (user ID and password) were gone.