Panel highlights CSA data-quality issues

| February 05, 2013

Industry-wide frustration with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program was well apparent in the two days of meetings of an FMCSA advisory committee held this week.

Representatives of motor carriers, law enforcement, trade associations, brokers and other stakeholders voiced concerns at the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee’s CSA Subcommittee meeting in Washington, D.C., Monday and Tuesday, over the enforcement prioritization system’s lack of crash fault/preventability and brokers/shippers’ view of scores as de facto safety ratings.

Most if not all frustration, however, pointed back to the central problem underlying each: The quality of the roadside data on which the entire system is based.

No easy answer to crash-fault question
Subcommittee head Dave Parker of Great West Casualty, former chairman of the MCSAC, began the meeting Feb. 5 with a request of fellow subcommittee members. Parker tasked each to provide him with a prioritized list of three specific CSA-related issues. Thinking ambitiously, Parker said, “I’d like to end [the meetings] with a document we’d be submitting to [the full MCSAC committee and then to the administrator], with comments on an issue this group feels requires the first priority.”

Though it’s sure to be on any number of committee members’ top three lists, crash fault/preventability may be unlikely to make the final cut for Feb. 6 deliberations. The issues inherent in determining fault and/or preventability are numerous, as accident reconstruction professionals made clear in morning presentations today.

While Gainesville, Ga.-based Jeffrey A. Kidd of Collision Specialities Inc. and Windsor, Ontario-based Jim Hrycay of Hrycay Consulting Engineers come from opposite backgrounds in the accident-reconstruction trade (Kidd’s a former patrol officer, Hrycay an engineer by training), both put a damper on the industry’s hopes of crash accountability and preventability being included in CSA scoring metrics.

When Con-way Freight Safety Vice Pesident Robert Petrancosta queried Kidd as to the safety of the assumption that “a centralized office could not correctly and accurately investigate all recordable crashes,” Kidd noted that “I’ve got to put my hands on the components to know what happened” in any accident.

General road-duty officers trained to look for “black and white” issues, or violations of law, in the aftermath of crashes often fail to collect necessary information to help determine preventability and fault, Kidd said. Of a total 239 crashes he investigated last year in his firm’s efforts primarily in defense of clients, he was able to find “contributing factors [not noted by the officer at the scene] in almost all of them…. There are many shades of grey in the many contributing factors.”

Hrycay stressed potential low-hanging fruit for improving the process by focusing commercial truck enforcement officer education around data collection at the scene of the accident. “They may get there sooner than [accident reconstructionists] like myself,” he said, “and we have to rely on the data they collect” in many cases to determine fault.

Problems Kidd has seen that are legion include roadside officers’ use of computational formulas based on skid length to determine how fast a truck was traveling that were meant for use with automobiles, thus not taking into account the reduced rate of deceleration of an 80,000-lb. vehicle. Also: Officers make the mistake of relying on testimony from a sole witness — often a single survivor, for instance, of two-vehicle crash — and fail to include any identifying information about the witness to help investigators. Further, urban and/or other traffic-dense jurisdictions’ preoccupation with clearing the roadway can make electronic-control-module-data downloads useless in the investigation, erasing last-stop data that ECMs manufactured by Detroit, Mercedes and Navistar record, particularly helpful in causation analysis.

“If you don’t have good data you can’t analyze anything,” Hrycay said. Long-term educational emphases “should be on making sure the front-line people are recording and collecting the right data. The level of data collected has been getting better, and more and more reliable — given the conditions front-line people are operating in, they’re doing a very decent job. But those with a higher level of expertise should continue to train and teach, but don’t give up the job of doing the work, because this is where you see new patterns and new technology changes.”

Data cart before the horse
FMCSA is working on enhancements to the public display of information at the CSA Safety Measurement System website. The agency plans to “put out a Federal Register notice soliciting information from the public” pertaining to the website in the “next couple of months,” said Bill Quade, FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement. “Depending on what we get, in the Spring we’d propose specific changes to the way we display information” there.

While members of the MCSAC CSA subcommittee offered a variety of suggestions in the second half of the meeting, including a potential return to a more prominent role for disclaimers about appropriate use of SMS data by members of the public, discussion repeatedly ambled back to bedrock data-quality issues.

True Value Company Transportation Senior Director Gary Palmer noted that carriers are now dealing with the growing reality that “there are a lot of shippers out there using this data without a clue about any of the problems. People in our society today don’t read the legalese — I appreciate that there is a disclaimer, but I don’t think people are reading it…. Until we fix the data we’ve got to make that very clear. I’ve got shippers who are eliminating carriers from consideration whose relative score [is as low as] 40-50 percent” in one or more Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category.

When the public views a CSA BASIC percentile measure, said Petrancosta, “you should have a big pop-up note that there is a strong correlation or no correlation” to actual crash risk, the latter of which has been demonstrated for both Driver Fitness and Controlled Substances/Alcohol BASICs.

Jeff Tucker, head of the Tucker Company Worldwide brokerage, questioned the public usefulness of the scores in total. “I am struggling tremendously with what to do with the data right now” in his business, he said. It’s usefulness outside of the purposes of law enforcement and motor carriers, he suggested, was little.

Several panelists suggested not displaying the BASIC scores but continuing to include the data for a sort of carrier version of driver Pre-Employment Screening Program reports.

“I understand the data’s not perfect,” said FMCSA’s Quade, “but I don’t see a good alternative that we can implement in the political realities of the day.” Furthermore, he added, “hiding the data would take investigators off the road and into our [Freedom of Information Act] office to deal with the requests,” an ultimate detriment, he felt, to safety.

  • Tom

    The whole scoring system is totalty off center ,what about a little oil drip a wire hanging All points added to your score. next thing you know your score goes up, then your INS. goes up,why are they not addressing the small violations for the points they give out?

  • Ray O

    Another part of the problem is shown in this quote from an industry professional, from the article

    “I’ve got shippers who are eliminating carriers from consideration whose
    relative score [is as low as] 40-50 percent” in one or more Behavioral
    Analysis and Safety Improvement Category.”

    What people see is PERCENTAGE … however aren’t all scores based on PERCENTILE which statistically is entirely different. I have seen this mistake constantly since the inception of this program of scoring.

  • Mike Jones

    The SHIPPERS are half the problem…the Heat should be on them to get in the Real World and stop causing accidents with their retarded operations.

  • Mike Jones

    These shippers AND Broker/ “logistics companies are hiring any illegal immigrunt they can find with beat old trucks to RACE down the highways as fast as they can go..working for Lowest Rates possible…….nobody mentions THAT at these stupid “meetings”…..what a sickening joke.

  • Bryan Pierce

    This system is putting a lot of good people and O/O out of business while they are trying to work out the bugs. This really disheartening they can cause damage and not be held accountable for it.

  • Dave

    Illegals with beat up trucks? Where do you live. Our country is catering to the non-american. Giving them money for companies and new equipment. This has been coming. Its part of something to knockout all of us little business owners. Just like the price of fuel. Theirs know reason it should be hire than gas. Its a recycled product. They just keep on coming up with more crap to sideline us(o/o). Your right. Everything is part of that score.Which is B/S.Things happen without you knowing.And petty stuff.

  • 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 just like the tests at school for the state; children are graded by percentile and not grades (e.g. A, B,C). This is 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. Therein lies the issues, we have users with no understanding of what they are reading. 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 are using this a grading scale. It is unjustly costing companies and O/Os loads. Is the gov going to be responsible for the lost income due to their negligent reporting system? I think not.

  • Albert

    What I don’t understand is how my company gets compared to a company that has fatalities. I make sure not to hire unsafe drivers, I personally road test and address unsafe habits before something bad happens yet I can get a bad score for bad tires while someone with 2000 trucks and a couple fatalities has a good score.

    I don’t think that the rating system is fair especially when you compare “vehicle maintenance” compared to “percentage of revenue” between a large company and a 5 truck company. While a large company cost is less than 1 percent a small company can easily pay over 5 percent of revenue. Especially today when taxes are out of this world and if you have a yard big enough to have a garage for maintenance you will be taxed out of existence unless you get into the truck repair business and bring in outside work which is not what a trucking company is.

  • Wayne Yoder

    If the FMCSA has determined they can’t determine cause from a police accident report, wouldn’t that put to question the validity of any police report? I personally in the last week have received 2 inspections from 1 state where a wrong statute was referenced.
    Does it make sense that a carrier can go from a 62% ranking to an 81% ranking even though their measure did not change, simply because they had 1 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?

  • Ed Slattery

    My wife was killed and two sons seriously injured, one permanently, when a trucker fell asleep at the wheel while driving a triple tractor trailer in Ohio. All this quibbling about scores is disgusting. What industry would accept 3500 or more deaths a year besides the trucking industry? There not all your fault for sure but why don’t we have a zero accident goal that we take seriously. I for one would endorse massive public service announcements, primarily on radio, about driving safely, especially around 80,000 pound vehicles but the industry has to take responsibility for the deaths and injuries that you cause by your actions or inactions. I am not anti trucker or trucking industry but am anti selfish, profit motivated greed that treats lives and injuries as a cost of doing business.

  • J Brown

    I’m right along side of you on that one, I’m all for safety, but this business of trying to put a fellow out of business for pittly things like a little oil leak, or hole in the mudflap, or even a logbook being a few hours behind is getting rediculous, The bad roads caused a break in a wire to the turn signal light on the trailer. Got a DOT inspection in a scale in GA, and I asked if I could check it out to see what was wrong with it, and they still gave me an out of service. I’m ready for the Lord to take me out of this cruel, unforgiving , unmerciful world

  • Lady Trucker

    I’m an o/o who has NEVER had an accident of any kind. Never had a ticket of any kind other than DOT, and non of which were for any thing that could have resulted in an accident. Yet if you look at my score one could conclude that I’m a danger to myself and others. The smaller your company the more your picked on. I’m stopped as much as 2 times a week for BS. My truck is older but well kept. I have repairs bills to prove this. I see big names rolling down the highway with headlights and tail lights burned out, driving with blown tires, which can be seen from a distance by any law enforcement officer and yet nothing is said. I how ever received a ticket for a burned out lic plate light in the middle of the day. I was stopped in AL and received a DOT ticket for Form and Matter… officer said my 3’s looked like 5’s and he did not want to accept my logs as they were filled out. Discounting the fact that I had BOL and fuel tickets to back the logs up.

    I believe the system was designed to take out the o/o of this country and let the big guys get bigger. They hire non English speaking drivers who drive like bats out of hell. And help me understand this “If he can’t speak a word of English how does he read road signs or maps or BOL??? Let’s get real. If a driver has no accidents, and no traffic tickets of any kind ever, at the age of 52, then that truck and driver should be considered safe in my book.

  • Mike Jones

    Yea..more “data” while thousands of ILLEGAL ALIENS drive thru your weigh stations DAILY…..keeping those Freight Rates DOWN for the Rich corporations….these cops Tie Up the American Trucker compiling “data” while the Illegals haul cheap freight everywhere Unquestioned!!!! You ANT question them because they DONT SPEAK or UNDERSTAND English….this whole program is a smoke screen to drive the Americans OUT of trucking like they did in the Construction Trade.

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