In the wake of Overdrive reporting on the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee’s early-February CSA Subcommittee meetings and the beginning of our three-months-long CSA’s Data Trail series, readers have added their voices to the chorus calling for agency recognition of the system’s impact on their businesses. As some brokers and shippers routinely “misuse,” according to the official agency line, carrier CSA percentile rankings in the BASICs (measurement categories that make up the system) in carrier selection, some readers report dramatic loss of business after a high ranking.
J. Webb Kline, owner of a Pennsylvania-based small fleet, said “we’ve lost $1.5 million in sales over the past year because brokers and shippers look at our score [in the Hours of Service Compliance BASIC] and think we’re high-risk, and we lost some of our best accounts because they aren’t allowed to load our trucks even though they need them.”
How did it happen? “I don’t have one, single driver working for me who has one single CSA violation or otherwise — nada — going back 10 years,” Kline added. “Two years ago, I hired an owner-operator, 65 years old with a spotless record, and within two months he had two hours violations — and I fired him. Actually, he didn’t have his duty status up to date, or he would have been OK.” He’d fought the other charge and won. “But none of it mattered to CSA. We wound up with 99 percent on our hours score. The only other violation happened a year ago when an owner-operator accidentally logged a 9.5-hour break instead of 10. Half of his score got removed this January when it was a year old.”
The removal of that violation and inspection put Kline in a different peer group, however, so without any new violations at that point his score actually went even higher, “from 95.4 to 98.3, and yet our [total time- and severity-weighted] points when down by 18.”
As industry, enforcement and safety reps claim to “work out the bugs” in the CSA system, in the words of reader Bryan Pierce, the “system is putting a lot of good owner-operators out of business…. This is really disheartening.”
Pierce’s comments that regulators “can cause damage and not be held accountable for it” suggest owner-operators need to continue showing regulators the problematic nature of the system — to inject a little accountability at the top end, where it’s needed.
Andrea Sitler echoed many CSA Subcommittee members’ views that all rankings should be withheld from public view until the system is fixed to better reflect true safety performance. “We have users with no understanding of what they are reading,” she said. “The data is poorly gathered and the reporting method needs improvement. Until both are done it just unfair showing this junk data to the public, especially when the uninformed general public uses this a grading scale. It is unjustly costing companies and owner-operators loads. Is the government going to be responsible for the lost income due to their negligent reporting system? I think not.”
Following find further commentary on CSA’s impact:
Wayne Yoder: If the FMCSA has determined they can’t determine [crash fault or] cause from a policeman’s accident report, wouldn’t that put into question the validity of any police report? I personally in the last week have received two inspections from one state where a wrong statute was referenced.
Does it make sense that a carrier can go from a 62 to an 81 percentile ranking even though their measure did not change, simply because they had one more inspection with a violation that pushed them into a different carrier group?
Why rank carriers against carriers? Why not factor the number of good vs. bad inspections into the measure and determine a deficient cutoff in each basic?
J. Webb Kline: Our trucks only average 61,000 miles per year and are home every night. We can’t get inspections [to improve our scores] because the trucks cross over the same scales and the cops won’t bother with them even if asked.
Andrea Sitler: CSA was created with good intentions, as are most government programs. But again as most, they go awry. Until data quality is improved, the results need to be kept private. It is just like the tests at schools for the states: children are graded by percentile and not grades (e.g. A, B, C). This is as confusing to most parents as this grading system is to the public. People see 40 and 50 and immediately think failing/failure. While, in this case, 90 is failure, I bet many would see that as an A that do not understand the system.