Feature Article: Safety's new teeth

Todd Dills | April 24, 2010

Safety’s new teeth

SafetyCarriers in pilot test states reveal what’s coming under the far-reaching CSA 2010 safety crackdown

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 program goes live in July, it will increase the agency’s attention to driver safety. The new regime changes safety monitoring and enforcement in ways that will reach deep into drivers and owner-operators’ carrier and/or shipper relationships, not to mention their potential to affect hours of service compliance practices and your view of roadside inspections.

Leased and company 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.

Furthermore, the program is expected to bring independent owner-operators 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.” For a look at the system’s full architecture, see the flow chart at right.

CSA 2010 is now operational in some form in nine states. Carriers and drivers in the pilot states report mixed results. For Georgia-based Kennesaw Transportation, the CSA 2010 journey began in 2008. “What put me on their radar was my driver number,” says Mike Clay, safety director. Though the driver Safety Evaluation Area (SEA) score 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.

Violations 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). 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.”

After receiving warning letters around December 2008, Hogan was assigned an on-site focused investigation, one of the new intervention options in what FMCSA calls its “toolkit.” By the time of the investigation in June, the carrier had already begun addressing the problems.

Lansing says its Unsafe Driving numbers were being impacted by a 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.”

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.” Depending on a driver’s MVR, Kennesaw turned down their tractor another 4 mph after he/she received a violation. A one-year probation period would then ensue, during which any violation received could result in termination.

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.”

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, which contribute favorably to carriers’ scores. “We tell them, ‘If you need $100 just find yourself a scale — it’s just like an ATM.’”

In the company’s December safety meeting, furthermore, was 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 can expect big changes to both carrier safety programs and hiring standards. Drivers are being monitored internally in the same way carriers are, the individual BASICs populated with violation information going back three years.

FMCSA’s Pre-Employment Screening Tool will soon give carriers access to drivers’ history down to the roadside inspection level (drivers will be able to access their history for a $10 fee via fmcsa.psp.dot.gov ). “This will replace the Motor Vehicle Record” as the standard in background information in hiring, Lansing says.

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 time 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 same, Lansing 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.”


Coming Attractions: Driver Rating?

After intimations from FMCSA officials in November and early December last year that a driver-rating tool of similar character to the new carrier-rating measurement system was in the works for 2011, the agency publicly backed from any such speculation in a big way, repeatedly noting that CSA 2010 will only employ an individual driver-rating tool internally. The tool 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 does have the look and feel of the system rating carriers in violation categories, but drivers will receive no formal, points-based assessment, says FMCSA Senior Transportation Specialist Bryan Price. “It 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.”


BuggvideoSteve Bugg asks tough questions of FMCSA and talks about his carrier’s new safety policies, instituted as a result of the CSA 2010 pilot program in Georgia, in a video in the “Truckers News videos” featured playlist at www.truckersnews.com.



webinarsLearn more

Log on to www.truckerwebinars.com to hear two programs in which experts explain the program’s effect on drivers and answer questions from listeners. Under Archives, you can download the Jan. 21 and March 17 sessions, both focused on CSA 2010’s impact on the driver force, with Certified Fleet Safety Director Mike Rone and Schneider National Safety Vice President Don Osterberg, respectively. 


Who’s at fault?

Within CSA 2010, some aspects of assigning responsibility for problems could be lacking in accuracy or fairness. Some of the areas have drawn objections from drivers and carriers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did not respond to requests to answer the complaints.

For instance, the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category), many alleged violations on inspection reports can’t be blamed on the driver, as so many potential problems there simply can’t be uncovered by a pretrip inspection.

In the Cargo-Related BASIC, too, many think accountability might better be shared with the shipper, since so many trailers are loaded without driver access, whether behind tight dock doors or actually locked.

Dart Transit Vice President Gary Volkman and others, further, 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 waiting for it to turn green and some idiot drunk in downtown Minneapolis with a carload of people slams into my trailer, I’m cited for four injuries in that crash — injuries/accidents are worth X number of points.”

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.” 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.”

CSA


OverdriveOnline.com strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.