Irregular ratings: CSA snafus

| July 02, 2012

More than a year after taking effect, the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program still frustrates carriers, drivers and others with what they believe are serious flaws.

Inspections took on a new importance in December 2010, when the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program went into effect.

Two issues that inspire most of the groaning are the absence of crash accountability in the measurement system and the weight CSA gives certain violations over others. A third is regional disparities in enforcement that put some carriers at a disadvantage.

The most immediate effort for change involves the highway funding bill, still pending at press time. Last month, members of the House and the Senate were deadlocked in a conference committee trying to flesh out a compromise version of a two-year funding bill. Some analysts say it’s an opportunity for the industry to lobby Congress to pressure the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to change CSA.

FMCSA officials declined to be interviewed, but through a prepared statement the agency said it “considered developing a crash weighting initiative that would examine the responsibility associated with crashes involving commercial” vehicles, but that it needed to study further in “several critical areas.”

The biggest problem is over crash accountability, says Tom Bray, editor of Transportation Management for J.J. Keller & Associates. “The argument is, ‘We got hit by them. How come we’re being held responsible for it?’”

Regarding violation severity weighting disagreements, Bray cites examples such as relatively high values placed on not wearing a seatbelt and relatively low values assigned to brake problems.

Steve Bryan, founder of Vigillo, a company that helps carriers manage their CSA scores, says he sees a push outside of the highway bill to pressure Congress. “Ultimately, some of this may get embodied in a highway bill,” he says, “But I think there’s a separate initiative to just go to Congress and lobby.”

The American Trucking Associations’ stance, he says, “is it’s time to take the gloves off a little bit and see what we can do to make this thing better.”

Bray, though, doubts that pressuring Congress to force FMCSA to change CSA will work. “FMCSA is already doing what Congress has told them to do, and I don’t think Congress is going to step into the weeds and tell them how to do it.”

FMCSA is trying this summer to improve the overall system relative by moving load securement violations from CSA’s Cargo BASIC (behavior analysis and safety improvement category) into the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC. That leaves only hazardous material standards under Cargo, and that BASIC has been renamed Hazmat. The changes were expected to be effective this month, following the June 30 end of a preview available to motor carriers.

Some flatbed haulers’ scores in the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC, as expected, jumped with addition of securement-related violations, which are much more obvious in that segment than in dry van or reefer, for instance. With the removal of the Cargo BASIC, however, in some senses the change may be a wash for any overall rating, or Safety Fitness Determination, that is expected to come out of CSA in the future.

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