CSA scoring is faulty, unfair for small carriers, GAO report says

| February 04, 2014

This chart, from the GAO’s report, shows that one-truck owner-operators who’ve received an Unsafe Driving BASIC score have an astronomically higher chance of being above the intervention threshold in that category than all other size carriers, especially those with more than 25 trucks.

The scoring system used by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in its Compliance, Safety, Accountability system is flawed and is made up of an incomplete data set, concludes a Government Accountability Office report released Feb. 3. The GAO also concluded the program is particularly unfair for small carriers.


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The GAO report, “Modifying the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program Would Improve the Ability to Identify High Risk Carriers,” also recommends FMCSA change the system, due to various shortcomings the GAO found in its study, most of which stem from the quality of the data used by the agency to score carriers.

The GAO report’s findings are in line with Overdrive findings in spring of 2013, upon analyzing CSA data from its first two years in creating the CSA’s Data Trail site. Click here to see it.

Industry trade groups like the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and the American Trucking Associations — often loud critics of the agency’s carrier scoring program — both have expressed agreement with the study’s findings.

The GAO report, while seemingly a proponent of CSA’s mission of scoring carriers as an attempt to target unsafe ones, identifies several key problems with CSA and its Safety Measurement System scoring method. These problems “raise questions about whether SMS is effectively identifying carriers at highest risk for crashing in the future,” GAO’s report says.

The GAO study found that:

-The data being used to score carriers is inconsistent, due to variances in inspection and enforcement policies state to state.


Infographic: Owner-operators inspected four times more often than largest fleets

An infographic on Overdrive sister site CCJ shows some of the more disparate data that favors fleets over independents.

-Scores for small carriers are likely to be inflated by FMCSA’s methodology and are prone to significant fluctuations, given the limited data available for them, and a sam;l carrier therefore could have a hard time overcoming an inspection report that at once establishes a score and elevates it above a BASIC’s threshold for intervention. 

-Some data used to calculate scores in the Unsafe Driving BASIC (behavioral analysis and safety improvement category) and the Crash Indicator BASIC are self-reported and therefore subject to inaccurate, missing or misleading reports from carriers.

-A large chunk of the regulations used in SMS score calculations aren’t violated enough to strongly associate them with crash risk. The GAO determined 593 of the 750 violations it studied were violated by less than 1 percent of carriers. 

-There’s a general lack of correlation between SMS scores and crash occurrence, as a majority of high risk carriers have not crashed at all. 

ATA and OOIDA both say in statements they agree with the study’s findings. ATA further said FMCSA should remove carriers’ scores from public view, as it allows third parties to make “erroneous judgments based on inaccurate data,” said ATA’s Chief of National Advocacy, Dave Osiecki. 


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Tom Sanderson of the Alliance for Safe, Efficient and Competitive Truck Transportation, who has an ongoing lawsuit against CSA, said the study “is emphatic in making [the] point” that the SMS scoring is “biased against small carriers.” Sanderson also said the scoring should be removed from public view. 

“FMCSA should live up to its federal duty to determine which carriers are safe to operate on the highways and shut down the unsafe operators,” Sanderson said.

Click here to see GAO’s report.

  • lastgoodusername

    No surprise here. I believe the system is operating exactly as it was designed. It has been extremely costly, confusing to the general public,overly burdensome, especially to small interest, and lacking a common sense approach to the true problem it should have been addressing which is highway safety. A typical one size fits all Federal solution looking for a problem.

  • Shawn McConniel

    Being one of said small carriers I totally agree. I have seen our score go sky high through no fault of our own. I think they designed it to get rid of smaller carriers if you ask me.

  • Bulldog

    I am a small carrier, and I’ve been put out of service a lot when I first started, now my insurance carrier decided to drop me. I have not been out of service for a year, now I am having trouble getting insurance .

  • saddlesore

    I agree that this CSA was designed to effectively eliminate small carriers. Large carriers had a hand in creating the system. If the Federal Department of Transportation TRULY wants safety on the highways, It would re-regulate freight as far as setting a floor for freight rates. Limiting what brokers can skim off the top,and requiring what they are receiving for that load disclosed on a rate sheet. The same type of policy for companies that lease owner/operators. I cant believe that anyone can make it running their equipment to death for $1.35 per mile. The fact that they are constantly spending $$$$$$$$$$$$ recruiting(lying) is proof. A single truck owner/operator is the safest truck on the road when he makes enough to maintain/repair his equipment when needed. He relies on that one piece of equipment for his living. A reasonable minimum, and full financial disclosure, in my humble opinion, put more owners with vested interest in true safety back on the road.

  • Del Ray Johnson

    @shawnmcconniel:disqus you are absolutely correct if they screw the little guys and the big companies with lobbyi$t can pay $.10 CPM.

  • norman ott

    its easier for government to keep track of a few large companies than a bunch of small carriers. No more 379s

  • lordkingtrucking@gmail.com

    I totally agree, as a small carrier I feel extremely frustrated and defenceless against all this injustice. I am thinking seriously change my way of living! they have stopped me couldn’t find anything “big” but they gave a bad report because my reflectors were scratch…I’ve been stopped 3 times for inspection they have been good reports but the DOT agents were too busy to give me the good inspection paper…and the list go on and on…just soooo unfair.

  • roots

    our government sucks period,all they care about is the money,they forgot how this country was built, by the small business man. shame on you, you greedy bastards

  • Mike

    One of my trucks got inspected….found nothing wrong. And score went up one point….. Before that no inspections for 3 months. Score still went up. I don’t understand.

  • RichieC

    Lets not forget stacking …the practice of writing the same violation 3, 4, and 5 ways on one report. Lets not forget the that the Fair Credit Reporting act requires contested violations to be stricken from the record if disputed (a rule ignored by the gov). Lets also not forget that data-que simply asks the cop, inspector to evaluate himself….and the result is always…”IM A COP AND IM RIGHT…..YOUR A FILTHY STEERING WHEEL HOLDER AND OF COURSE, ALWAYS WRONG” At the end of the day a small carrier cannot be reflected accuratly in the system.

  • shester9

    Us to, I have struggled with finding an insurance company as well. Do to our safety score. We are flatbeds with 2 trucks and dot on one ticket got us for overhead clearance lights. I hate this. We are facing a shutdown if we cant find an insurance provider for our 2 trucks.

  • Gisele

    This is total BS.. We are a small carrier and we have fallen victim to this.. We had no clue about this until we started looking for new insurance quotes cause our insurance for 2 trucks and 2 trailers went from 10 thousand per year to 28+ in the middle of our policy.. When I talked to the department of safety to find out some info on it I was more or less told, oh well… Ya oh well, it took us 2 months to get a new quote, a lot of paperwork, and tons of time spent on the phone… What is OUR country coming to, or better yet what the hell does the government think they are doing to us this time??? I understand things need to be safer but WHY are they trying to ruin all the small carriers?? In New Hampshire our motto is, LIVE FREE OR DIE.. Well guess what you idiots in the government and everywhere else, your killing us… Most of these people in high places with authority can’t even run their own households, never mind the trucking industry.. What can we do so we all don’t end up in the unemployment line ????

  • Shadow_58

    Folks, I wrote a piece to truckers weekly a couple of years back that outlined exactly what CSA 2010 was going to do to the trucking industry. Drivers responded with the typical “Your Nuts or You don’t know what your talking about”. Do you believe me now? BTY, CSA 2010 has more surprises in store for you guys this year and your not going to like them one bit.

  • stlnck

    The whole system is a money grab, you have local municipalities enforcing rules which they don’t understand. I used to get stopped about once a month, because my route was in an area which had a local CMV enforcement detail. I was issued one citation because I was missing my current year cab card, never had any other issues. My future relief driver needed to test so he took my equipment. The testing station is ran by the state police, they told him that the tags on the trailer expired a couple of years ago and he couldn’t take the road test. The best part is that the local municipality stopped us on our way to the test station and said everything is good.

  • haller

    Why should brokers have control of the freight charges. No one RULE: There should be a broker fee of lets say $250 and a freight charge plus fuel, plus refer fuel, plus tarping, plus waiting time, plus loading time, plus unloading time, etc. and all of the freight charge goes to the truck. The broker charge goes to the broker and the freight charge goes to the truck. The trucker gets a blank com check and paper work he or she loads, then after the run which takes 21 hours the trucker charges an agreed charge fills in the check per the rate of lets say $245 per hr. =$5145.00. When the broker has control of the freight charge the truck gets paid in 30 business days which really is 45 calendar days.. You can’t let liers be in control of our money.. Number two RULE: NO back hauls. The only person who makes money on a backhaul is the broker. I never do back hauls. I’ll squirt in $300 of fuel and go home. I NEVER.. NEVER do backhauls. Figure out what a backhaul costs you not only in money but time, it’s little to nothing or another loss……

  • Kevin J. Reidy

    Stop giving the megacarriers a free pass at every weigh station. Start pulling in Swift, Knight, Schneider, YRC, at the weigh stations instead or waving them through in order to get to the smaller carriers.

    DOT Officers might be amazed at some of the junk those large carriers are pulling down the road, lights out, bald tires, missing mudflaps, drop trailers that haven’t seen a maintenance shop in years with both expired plates and inspections…except they don’t want to suffer the shitstorm coming their way if they mess with any of the big common carriers.

    PrePass at the scalehouse is a FreePass for junk to keep rolling down the road.

  • bigwheat

    Man you aint ever lying on that

  • Shadow_58

    The CSA 2010 crap has put a lot of people out of a job and its only going to get worse. People need to start standing up and demand this piece of written crap be scraped immediately.

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