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Industry, safety advocates split on CSA ‘work in progress’

| February 07, 2013

A CSA Subcommittee this week concluded three prioritized issues to take to a full committee later this year — crash accountability, data quality issues, public display of carriers’ Safety Measurement System scores.

The CSA Subcommittee to the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee ended its Feb. 5-6 meeting with the recommendations that will be put to the full committee for consideration in April when it convenes again. Issues taken up were determined by each member ranking his or her top three CSA problems. Various data quality problems ranked No. 3, the problematic nature of the public display of carrier Safety Measurement System scores No. 2, and how to address crash fault and/or preventability in the Crash Indicator Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) took the top spot.

“Using all information that the Agency has before it,” draft recommendations read, “FMCSA should exclude crash data for which there is a clear determination of not-at-fault” or non-preventability on the accident report or elsewhere “for purposes of computing a carrier’s Crash Indicator BASIC score.”

“I’ve referred to [CSA] as a ‘work in progress’ before, and have somewhat been chastised because of that,” said Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Executive Vice President Todd Spencer. But, he added, “these are things that diminish the value of the product.”

Practical considerations notwithstanding, most committee members felt that in instances where fault was noted on crash reports it should be considered in the scoring, while a minority suggested that FMCSA’s own higher standard of “preventable” or “nonpreventable,” determined during compliance reviews where crash issues are found that could impact a company’s safety rating, was a better mark.

Data-quality recommendations
The CSA Subcommittee was more united behind a series of recommendations on how to improve the quality of the data on which CSA is based:

  1. Under-reporting of crashes/inspections: FMCSA should evaluate the possibility of changing the definition of a DOT-recordable crash for purposes of CSA (for instance, to only include fatal crash data or fatal and injury crash data). Any definition of crashes that shows a better correlation to future crashes should be considered. Con-way Freight’s Robert Petrancosta noted 34 percent of his fleet’s crashes went un-reported by local and/or certain state jurisdictions. The subcommittee also recommend that FMCSA evaluate the potential of inclusion of federal annual inspection data within CSA from states that administer their own programs, potentially offering incentives for such programs to be established nationwide. 
  2. Data/report standardization: FMCSA should reach out to CVSA and other organizations to work toward standardization. These entities could provide valuable input to a discussion of this problem.
  3. Geographic enforcement disparity: The agency should consider weighting non-safety-related violations differently from states that are clear outliers in certain categories to correct bias in SMS scores against carriers operating in those states. as well as consider the overall normalization of outlier violation data from heavily reporting sates (those with out-of-service rates outside of the average, for instance).

Part of the rationale of dissenting members (representing truck-safety-advocacy communities) relied on Tuesday, Feb. 5, presentations to the committee from accident-reconstruction professionals that cast no shortage of doubt on roadside-level officers’ ability to adequately make the final determination of fault, particularly in complicated multi-vehicle accidents. True Value Company Transportation Senior Director Gary Palmer, however, disputed the need for the high standard of preventability to be met before a crash could be considered in a carrier’s scoring. “Are we letting the exception drive the rule?” he asked, given the clear-cut nature of fault in the large majority of DOT-recordable crashes. “Because there’s some concern about [a relative few] accidents where it’s difficult to determine fault, we’re utilizing all accidents” in determining Crash Indicator scores with no fault determination.

Majority recommendations also considered other areas of potential improvement related to crashes, including Con-way Freight Safety Vice President Robert Petrancosta’s contention that FMCSA should analyze whether redefining a DOT-recordable crash (for example, to exclude tow-away crashes from the definition) would turn the Crash Indicator into a better predictor of future crash risk. “Maybe there’s an opportunity to merge all these things together and develop a better standard and better consistency with a more narrow level of control.”

Preventability/fault determinations, he added, could be opened up to challenge via the FMCSA’s DataQs system, where the only challenge-able item related to crashes today is whether or not a crash is assigned to the correct DOT number.

The recommendations came square in the middle of the FMCSA’s long-term study of whether inclusion of preventability determinations in CSA crash measures makes the enforcement regime a “sharper tool,” in the words of Compliance Division Chief Thomas Kelly. The agency wants to know if the Crash Indicator would be a “better predictor” of future crashes as well as whether it’s possible to make accurate preventability determinations with current agency resources. If using preventability determinations doesn’t improve the Crash Indicator BASIC by much, “do we want to spend money going down this road to determine preventability?” Kellyasked.

Results of the yearlong effort are expected in July of this year, he added.

Ultimately, an eight-person majority on the subcommittee showed preference for the “fault” standard, at once recognizing that in some jurisdictions around the nation officers are expressly cautioned not to assign fault in the initial accident report, even in clear-cut situations. FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement Bill Quade cautioned members that including crash fault in the near term could introduce more geographical biases in the data, a data-quality concern of most subcommittee members.

All the same, “preventability seems like just a wide-open standard,” said Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Executive Vice President Todd Spencer.

“Police reports do not go to the level of preventability,” said Janice Mulanix of the California Highway Patrol, acknowledging practical considerations.

Should CSA BASIC scores remain public?
A majority of committee members urged the agency to withhold percentile rankings in the BASICs from public view until other underlying issues could be resolved. Realizing withholding the rankings in total was unlikely to be something the FMCSA would act upon, compromise recommendations were as follows:

  • Remove rankings from public view in BASICs where the numbers don’t correlate directly to crash risk (Driver Fitness, Controlled Substances/Alcohol).
  • Keep the new Hazardous Materials Compliance BASIC measures hidden from public view, given similar lack of crash-risk correlation.
  • Abstain from provide guidance or otherwise encouragement to third parties on how to use SMS data for carrier selection.

Unanimity on the issue was far from being achieved, however, with four members, largely from safety-advocate and law-enforcement communities, either dissenting directly or abstaining from endorsement of these recommendations and offering points of view in favor of public use of CSA data.

Find more on the discussion in this story.

  • Mike Jones

    Yea the Shipper and brokers want all the reports HIDDEN so they can continue to hire illegal aliens and cheapest drivers possible…and not be SUED when an accident occurs. Actually we need MORE transparency and Legal Action AGAINST companies hiring MANIACS and Illegal Aliens to drive on our roads that Ameicans are PAYING FOR. Big Business only cares about MORE MONEY..and if that means CHEAPEST LABOR…thats what they want…..Truckstops are FILLED with cheap labor mexican “drivers” with FAKE LICENSES and FAKE credentials..and ZERO background investigation. MORE inspections and MORE REPORTING will drive OUT these illegal “truckers” and drive the RATES and WAGES UP….which will be a benefit for the Law Abiding American Truckers..who wont HAVE to cheat on a log book if they are making realistic PAY which is being kept down by these Fake Truckers.

  • Mark D.

    I would whole heartily agree with the article on the Basic Hidden part till this issue is resolved, as the owner of five trucks , where two of them where involved in an unavoidable not at fault accident several years ago, has diffidently been used by FMSCA & brokers against my company in a negative way. Meaning that brokers and companies that use to use our services has discontinued cause of the visibility on the SMS web page

  • JD

    I also agree with the hidden picture. Our scores are high because of past drivers and that stays with us for quite a while, and in the meantime, brokers and larger companies that broker think that they are the FMSCA and policing us little companies, when in actuality the system should be for our interest and seeing problems, which is why the drivers dont work here anymore. I really see discrimination from brokers / shippers and they have no idea what is going with the score, and FMSCA is helping the descrimination process along. I have written to our senator in washington and will continue to fight this lousy discrimination process. Way to government for the people.

  • Andrea Sitler

    DataQ can already be a nightmare. Adding something else to be addressed through that system is not really a solution.

  • OTRDriver

    A bit prejudiced are we Mike? I agree with your comments about the brokers and shippers wanting to hire the cheapest drivers and run as lean as possible at the cost to the driver. But there are plenty of United States Citizens who will run and work for sub-standard wages.

  • William McKelvie

    Again with that future crash risk ? Hold on please allow me time to go to my local toys r us store and purchase a magic 8 ball, and bring it to the meeting. We can use that to predict the future crashes …………

  • jescott418

    Frankly I don’t like trying to predict anything. Too many variables in trucking. From driver turnover to weather to areas where the trucks run. Again its a government program trying to micro manage a industry. In my opinion it is just another big brother tool forcing everyone to install tracking and logging devices. Does it help or hurt the driver? I believe it eventually micro manages the driver and will most likely lead to more problems not less.

  • jescott418

    I totally agree that its very flawed but does that surprise anyone? Its created by people not even capable of understanding trucking and its variables.

  • G Miles

    The facts are, things are not working right. Work in Progress….my butt, this crash thing has been going on for years!! Officers tell my drivers, “don’t worry it won’t affect your CSA scores” while handing a marker light warning warning to him. Inflated scores for simple violations, BS crash scores, the whole system is a mess and we pay the price and it has nothing to do with cheap shippers and receivers.

  • Mike Jones

    The Rates are so LOW…thanks to that few QUALITY workers remain in trucking. Only brand new “trainees” are in plentiful supply..with No Experience. It seems that remaining in this business is going to be a safety Hazard. Fatalities and Injuries to truckers was UP 20% last year not DOWN. CSA rushes out to the crash site and determines how the ROOKIE or the Illegal Alien smashed his truck…between the LOW PAY and the STIFLING COP REGULATIONS only the Worst of the Worst will be involved in such a rediculous industry. Who else would subject themselves to this ABUSE?? Drivers are looked down upon..laughed at, ridiculed by COPS, Shippers, Brokers, Dispatchers….hard to believe anybody is out there driving..and for WHAT? The PAY is not worth it…….the STRESS has become unbearable….industry is Over Run by foreigners that nobody even knows how or IF they have a Real License!! Seems ABSURD to want to be involved with an industry gone Berzerk!!!!

  • obama_is_not_my_president

    I have been driving trucks for 38 years(plus my teen years). Over 2.5 million miles. No crashes. No “Out Of Service” etc.

    I have lost track of the number of times I’ve pulled people out of wrecks, little kids, drunks, old people, you name it. I had a girl die in my arms and that haunts me to this day.

    In the last two years I have had 8 roadside inspections. Out of these 8 inspections ZERO mechanical issues were found with my equipment. HOWEVER, I was guilty of not drawing a line from Off Duty to Driving three times. All three times everything else was in order. I had shown arriving at destination, taking a break, fueling, or loading / unloading etc. but had failed to drop a line back down to driving. All documents matched my logs, and all equipment was found to be in excellent condition.

    NOW my “Basics Overview” shows the dreaded “Exceeds Intervention Threshold”

    I used to trust the police completely. When ever I would get stopped, I would just hand everything to the officer and not worry about a thing. I’m a good guy, a good driver, and a good “Highway Citizen”, what do I have to worry about, right?

    I can see what I have to worry about now, and it ain’t drawing some goofy little line 1 inch down from Off-Duty to Driving.

  • Mike Jones

    Why is this cop wearing a TAN uniform with a GUN on to do an
    inspection that should be done by a real Mechanic???? Looks ignorant under the hood wearing that idiot uniform…LOL strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.