Feature Article: Feeling the heat

Todd Dills | March 01, 2010

Feeling the heat

Carrier tests reveal what’s coming under the far-reaching CSA 2010 safety crackdown.

 

cover-story-photAs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 program goes live nationwide in July, it will increase the agency’s attention to owner-operator safety.

The new model changes safety monitoring and enforcement in ways that will reach deep into your shipper and carrier relationships, not to mention their potential to affect your hours of service compliance practices and your view of roadside inspections.

Independent owner-operators will find it necessary to ramp up attention to operational details such as log book precision, equipment condition and medical certificates. Leased drivers in the CSA 2010 pilot states and elsewhere have already seen new penalties coming from their carriers for violations as minor as a speeding warning.

CSA 2010 does many things differently from Safestat, the old system that scored carriers’ safety performance. For one, it casts a wider net for including violations in the safety scoring system, rather than just out-of-service violations, tickets and crashes.

Independent owner-operators and other carriers will not have to undergo a full on-site compliance review for safety data to have an effect on safety ratings in any of the seven violation categories the agency has set, expanded from four under Safestat. Ratings will be updated monthly with new data, mostly from violations noted at roadside. (A chart on Pages 34-35 gives a simple overview of how the system works.)

graphCSA 2010 also employs an individual driver-rating tool that will provide the agency with the ability to intervene with a carrier due to a particularly bad safety record for a single driver, whether driving company equipment or leased. This tool is being employed internally by FMCSA officials, who say it has the look and feel of the system rating carriers in violation categories. Drivers will not receive a formal, points-based assessment that’s publicly released, says FMCSA

Senior Transportation Specialist Bryan Price. “That would require another rulemaking and might require increased authority through legislation from Congress,” he says.

Still, FMCSA acknowledges on its CSA 2010 website that its internal approach to driver measurement “does not preclude FMCSA from developing a driver rating or safety fitness determination process at some time in the future.”

Regardless, the program is expected to bring independents and other small carriers under a level of scrutiny similar to what large fleets have always experienced with compliance reviews, says Prime Inc. Director of Safety Don Lacy. “They didn’t pick on the little guys,” Lacy says. “They recognized the need to look at new entrants but had limited manpower, so they devised this system.”

CSA 2010 is now operational in some form in nine states. Since it was implemented in 2008 in Colorado, “We’ve had carriers whose numbers have improved just as a result of the change in system,” says Patti Olsgard of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association. However, she notes, “we’ll see a lot more of the opposite, because of how the system works.”

Carriers and drivers in the pilot states report mixed results. For Atlanta-based Kennesaw Transportation, which operates 194 company-owned power units, mostly in reefer applications, the CSA 2010 journey began in 2008. “What put me on their radar was my driver number,” says Mike Clay, safety director. Though that measurement was about average under SafeStat, FMCSA had found a pattern of speeding violations and gave Clay a few days to come up with a plan for action.

second-graphViolations of this type under CSA 2010 will contribute to a carrier’s rating in Unsafe Driving – one of seven BASICs (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories). These categories are similar to the Safestat Safety Evaluation Areas, or SEAs. Deficient scores in these categories can trigger an intervention by FMCSA.

Thomas Lansing, safety vice president at Hogan Transports in St. Louis, Mo., found out about two of the BASICs – Unsafe Driving and Crash Indicator – when his carrier came under the CSA 2010 test. “When you look at our SEA score, we’re well below the deficient mark” in both areas, says Lansing. “It’s hard to grasp how you can be a great company in the eyes of FMCSA and then automatically be deficient viewed another way.”

But grasp it Hogan did. After receiving warning letters around December 2008, Hogan was assigned an on-site focused investigation, one of the new intervention options in what FMCSA likes to call its “toolkit.” By the time of the investigation in June, the carrier had already addressed the problems.

Lansing says the letters brought to the company’s attention a problem with its Unsafe Driving numbers that was due to a large number of warnings, not just speeding convictions. Company policy was changed to include repercussions for warnings. “Our policy is no more than two warnings or tickets in a 12-month period or three in a 36-month period,” Lansing says. “Basically, we give [drivers] a warning letter for the first, a suspension on the second, and we terminate them on the third.”

Steve-Bugg
To see Steve Bugg talk about his carrier’s new stringent safety policies, instituted as a result of the CSA 2010 pilot program in Georgia, see “Overdrive videos” at www.overdriveonline.com.

Kennesaw instituted an even stricter policy for its fleet, which was governed at 71 mph when the CSA 2010 pilot started, Clay says. “We turned all the trucks down 4 mph,” and also left no wiggle room for any kind of “warning, ticket or roadside violation. If [a driver] received one, we pulled a current MVR on that driver, and if no past problems were seen from an MVR or previous roadside inspections while they worked here, we put them on a written disciplinary action. During that ‘probation,’ if they received any violations, that driver was immediately terminated. Those probation periods lasted a year from the initial violation. If the driver did have a [ticket or warning] or a negative roadside inspection while they’d worked here that we saw on the MVR, we reduced the tractor speed another 4 miles per hour.”

Some Kennesaw drivers bristled at the change, Clay says. “I wasn’t one of the more liked individuals around here for a while.”

Yet many drivers took the changes in stride. “Over the last several years, we’ve been working to get our safety scores better anyway,” says five-year Kennesaw driver Steve Bugg, of Sharon, Tenn. “In the last year, we really ramped up, and it got into our inspections and stuff.”

 

“The only downside I see to the new CSA 2010 program is that the way they’re doing the points is pretty strict. I think they went a little too far on this one, for now. Sometimes there are certain times you should do things. But now? The last five years, they’ve piled on the rules. ”

— Kennesaw Transportation driver Steve Bugg


Perkins Specialized leased owner-operator Dick McCorkle, with 46 years behind the wheel, also is not alarmed about the program. “People are starting to sweat before it’s time to sweat,” he says. “It’ll be a lot like when the CDL came out. It’ll hit the so-called ‘bad drivers.’ But if you don’t have any speeding violations, reckless driving violations, that sort of thing, you’ll be OK.”

Though not included in the Missouri pilot test of CSA 2010, Prime in recent years has made $100 payouts to its leased drivers and $25 to company drivers for clean inspections, Lacy says. “We tell them, ‘If you need $100 just find yourself a scale – it’s just like an ATM,’” he says.

The company’s December safety meeting contained what Lacy calls “a lot of selling and convincing” of its leased operators that a new company policy to use electronic on-board recorders was in their best interest. Fatigued driving is one of three BASICs that by itself can trigger intervention by a serious enough deficiency.

Leased and company drivers also can expect big changes in hiring standards. In addition to FMCSA’s enhanced internal monitoring of driver safety records, accounting for violation information going back three years, the agency’s Pre-Employment Screening Tool will soon give carriers access to drivers’ history down to the roadside inspection level.

“This will replace the Motor Vehicle Record” as the standard in background information in hiring, says Lansing. “Companies in the past looked at what drivers to hire on the basis of what tickets they had. Now it’s not only the tickets but the warnings, the marks on inspection reports.”

Don Osterberg, Schneider National’s safety vice president, believes the combination of the driver portion of CSA 2010 with the screening tool will be good for carriers and drivers. “We’ll be able to make a determination of safety and hire the drivers who are predisposed to be safe,” he says. “I would argue that today, because there is no driver rating, there has been safe haven in our industry for bad drivers” that ultimately reduces opportunity for the good.

Owner-operator McCorkle concurs. “If you have a bad work record or bad driving record, you’re going to suffer, but I haven’t heard or read anything where they’re going to take your license. My own personal opinion is these companies can’t afford the cowboys anymore. A one-vehicle accident costs thousands.”

Dart Transit, a largely owner-operator carrier, underwent a three-week, on-site compliance review last summer as a result of CSA 2010, says Safety Vice President Gary Volkman. “FMCSA walked out of here and gave us a satisfactory rating – no fines, no penalties, no nothing,” he says.

The agency had more to say to other carriers. FMCSA gave Kennesaw a year to remedy its deficiency in the Unsafe Driving BASIC without penalty. “We eventually dropped 12 points from the moving violation indicator,” says Clay, “which satisfied the state of Georgia and the federal government. Plus, when we implemented these things, my accident number on my Safestat was up into the 80s and 90s, and subsequently it is way down in the 50s. It’s saved us a lot of money – our insurance company loves us.”

Hogan still has months left in its own one-year period, after which FMCSA has warned of a full-fledged audit if they don’t turn things around. Drivers are listening, says Lansing, “and they’re understanding, but we’re not changing our behavior yet. For instance, our Unsafe Driving scores gradually crept up a little bit. All the emphasis, all the talking, and it’s not coming down – we haven’t been able to get drivers to make a quick impact.”

While Lansing is disconcerted by how his company can be A-OK in the eyes of the federal government under Safestat but not so under CSA 2010, he appreciates that FMCSA is trying to get to the root of safety problems.

Safestat, with its focus on out-of-service violations, was more concerned with outcome, he says, while the industry’s safety professionals focus on behavior. “Now the government is looking at it the same way.” n


Who’s at fault?

Industry concerned about misplaced accountability for cargo securement, truck condition and no-fault accidents

 

As CSA 2010 stiffens the safety regulatory process, it appears that some aspects of assigning responsibility for problems could be lacking in accuracy or fairness.

Some of the areas have drawn objections from owner-operators and carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not respond to requests to answer the complaints.

If a problem is found with carrier-owned equipment, for instance, points will be assigned to the carrier and, internally, to the driver, in the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category).

In the case of a company driver, “not all ‘alleged violations’ contained in an inspection report can be blamed on the driver,” says Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association spokesperson Norita Taylor. “There is no requirement for drivers to perform a Level I inspection on their truck prior to operation and that is the only kind of detailed inspection that is going to uncover maybe half of all violations noted. This is a big deal for company drivers.”

A leased owner-operator could suffer similar problems with a carrier’s trailer.

In the Cargo-Related BASIC, accountability might better be shared with the shipper, says Allen Smith, a fuel hauler and the man behind the AsktheTrucker.com website. “On a lot of these loads, drivers aren’t even allowed to watch the load being secured,” he says, and some of those loads are locked, preventing inspection by the driver.

“I had it happen to me – big 3,000- to 4,000-pound rolls of paper. One of the braces came off of it and it came out of the trailer. If they’re going to put points on the driver for a load he’s not able to survey, that’s wrong.”

Dart Transit Vice President Gary Volkman and others are skeptical of the inclusion of violations like speeding warnings for which no legal recourse is available for contesting an officer’s determination. He says, “If the driver goes to court over a warning, the judge says, ‘What are you here for? It’s a warning.’”

He notes a similar predicament for not-at-fault crashes. “If I’m stopped at a stoplight and some idiot drunk with a carload of people slams into my trailer, I’m cited for four injuries in that crash.”

Schneider National’s Don Osterberg says this is a big problem for carriers and drivers: “We have to fix [crash] accountability issues, really take that one on. Law enforcement and FMCSA have taken the view that it would be too hard to fix.” He proposes that if it’s clear to the officer on the scene that the crash wasn’t the fault of the rig’s driver, “put it on the form to begin with. And non-preventable fatality crashes then should be rated differently than preventable ones, even if it’s undecided who was at fault.”

Volkman adds that of crashes that are DOT-recordable – involving a fatality, an injury requiring direct treatment or a totally disabled vehicle – about a third are preventable. “They’re not all our fault, but we’re there and it’s a big truck,” he says.


Learn more

Visit www.truckerwebinars.com to hear two programs in which experts explain the CSA 2010’s effect on drivers and answer questions from listeners.

Don• Register there for the free, one-hour afternoon program slated for March 17, “CSA 2010’s impact on the driver force,” with Don Osterberg, Schneider National’s safety vice president.


Mike• And under Archives, you can download the Jan. 21 session, “CSA 2010: New accountability for drivers,” with Certified Fleet Safety Director Mike Rone. 


 

Regulations open door for onboard recorders

Schneider National expects the Qualcomm MCP 200 series unit to be in every one of its trucks, including those of its owner-operators, by August. That’s significant because it includes not only Internet capabilities and GPS voice navigation, but also automatic electronic logging.

“There was a day when commercial drivers were viewed as the elastic link in an otherwise rigid supply chain,” says Schneider’s Don Osterberg of drivers’ “creative” logging to adhere to hours of service limits. “But you really look at the current HOS rules, and it doesn’t allow for that creativity.”

Osterberg concurs with Prime’s Don Lacy that the watershed event spurring many large carriers’ move to electronic logs was not CSA 2010, but the December 2008 ruling declaring FMCSA authority to use Qualcomm and other device position reports in HOS auditing, rather than just paper fuel records, scale receipts and the like.

“There’s a level of logging precision that is required in legal circles that you just can’t meet with a paper log,” Osterberg says. “CSA 2010 is just further reinforcement … that you achieve a level of precision in your logging” that will, essentially, hold up in court.

 For independent owner-operators, computer-assisted logging may be a less-expensive solution to the need for such precision, whether via GPS-enabled laptop, as many do it today, or smart phone, offering the operator the ability to switch between partly automated and manual logging modes. Driver’s Daily Log by Iddl.com is an application available for the iPhone, with a companion subscription service ($100/year) that allows for long-term storage of your data.

The new UDrove.com application and service, too, enables computer-assisted logging via Blackberry, Android and iPhone platforms (with subscription starting at $29.95 monthly). UDrove also provides capabilities to help manage business data seamlessly, says Joel McGinley of Internet Truckstop, which makes the product. This includes “inspection reports, proofs of delivery when he wants to get proof back to dispatch, expense tracking, tax reporting data” and more.

end-photo
Iddl.com’s computer-assisted logging can be used on the iPhone.

As of now, any owner-operator utilizing computer-assisted logging must be able to print a log page to satisfy the demands of a DOT officer, if needed. However, UDrove reps and some drivers report more officers are getting familiar with computer-assisted log displays, and printing is becoming less necessary.






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