CSA Challenges

Todd Dills and Max Kvidera | March 01, 2011

As the compliance program rolls out, complaints about inspections and law enforcement actions emerge, with questions of due process looming large


In early December, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration flipped the switch. The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program’s new Safety Measurement System, in which carriers are now ranked in five public and two agency-view-only “BASIC” categories of measurement, replaced SafeStat as the primary statistical window into carrier safety. Combined with changes to the Inspection Selection System scores assigned to carriers and used by roadside inspectors to prioritize inspections, the change wasn’t exactly an immediate revolution in safety enforcement.

Jimmie Culver , a commercial vehicle inspection specialist with the California Highway Patrol, directs a truck driver into the Santa Clarita’s Castaic Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facility for inspection.

Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy at the American Trucking Associations, says he’s heard far fewer complaints about the system than six to 12 months ago because FMCSA “was very responsive and made many of the changes we called for.”

Schneider National Vice President of Safety Don Osterberg says presentation of the information shows “who the problematic drivers are and where the problematic issues are. Motor carriers and drivers who have been doing the right things right will find CSA to have a negligible impact on their operations.”

“It hasn’t been the great crisis folks were prognosticating,” says Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, “certainly not 200,000 drivers thrown out of their jobs.”

According to analysis of the new SMS conducted by Truckers News sister fleet publication CCJ, only 12 percent of all carriers even had a rating, much less a safety alert or deficiency, in any of the BASICs in the new system. But as the partially automated inspection and screening technologies highlighted (see “Emerging Inspection Technologies,” p. 24) continue to emerge, those numbers could rise significantly in the future. For detail on the changes to carrier/owner-operator ISS scores, which help law enforcement prioritize inspections, see “New ISS Algorithm” on p. 23.

database. I would hate to say that it’s intentionally trying to put the owner-operator out of business, but that’s exactly how it feels. I’ve been scared to drive down the road.” “]
“It just feels like they’re ramping up to get a bunch of bad information on stuff. They have an empty [CSA

Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA, says he’s appreciated the opportunity to look at scores of competitors in segments where his company runs but expects better information in the future. “If they don’t have complete coverage now, they will,” he says.

Obstacles to gaining the complete coverage Williams references include how CSA works. Carrier percentile rankings in the BASICs are based on roadside inspection and crash data. Each BASIC but the Crash Indicator (whose percentiles are still being withheld from public view) requires a minimum number of inspections to even warrant a numerical ranking. Depending on the category, the number is three or five, except for the Controlled Substances/Alcohol BASIC, which requires just one inspection.

Carriers with rankings above the alert thresholds in one or more of the BASICs will begin receiving CSA interventions, ranging from early warning letters to full-blown compliance reviews, on a phased basis, says FMCSA Spokesman Duane DeBruyne. “This was by design, given how widely different the states are in terms of the number of domiciled carriers, progress in migrating state IT systems to the new CSA data capabilities and the completion of CSA training, particularly by state law enforcement personnel.”

From the beginning, increasing carrier contact has been the stated goal of CSA. As under SafeStat, the more trucks a carrier has on the road, the more likely it will have public BASIC percentile rankings at this point. “Even after CSA is fully implemented in autumn 2011, drivers will experience nothing different during roadside inspections,” Debruyne says. “No new data is being collected. There is no new database. What is new is the clarity provided by CSA that permits law enforcement personnel to more finely pinpoint areas of concern and to share that information and to work with carriers to address issues at the front end, before they potentially may result in a crash.”

As CSA rolls out nationwide, Inspection Selection System changes are throwing a significantly higher number of trucks into the “inspect” category (see “New ISS Algorithm Targets More for Inspections,” p. 23). And despite official word that the aggregate number of inspections nationwide hasn’t increased due to personnel limitations, some drivers report feeling singled out by the U.S. Department of Transportation, alleging nitpicking enforcement.

Independent owner-operator Joe Powell, of Pensacola, Fla., says he averaged one inspection a year on his 1996 Freightliner, running primarily in the Southeast, until recently. In the past year, he’s been stopped or pulled in at a weigh station several times, including twice in one day within minutes of his home, incurring subsequent Level 1 and Level 2 inspections, after the new SMS went live. He incurred bobtail and empty inspections at Florida scales earlier, in addition to other law enforcement encounters. And these inspections have been particularly onerous compared to prior clean inspections.