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Todd Dills

Will FMCSA ‘un-ring’ the CSA alarm?

| August 27, 2014

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Coalition of trucking groups calls for removal of public CSA scores

Ten trucking groups sent a letter to the DOT pleading for the public scores in the CSA program to be removed from public view, pointing ...

With the Compliance, Safety, Accountability display changes in the bag, an interim administrator having taken the departing Anne Ferro’s place at helm of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the highly critical Congressional GAO report on CSA  long in the official dialogue over the program and the ASECTT lawsuit dismissed, trucking groups yesterday finally pulled their public trigger, asking the Department of Transportation to pull the CSA Safety Measurement System category rankings from public view altogether. 

Notably absent from the signatories to the letter was the National Association of Small Trucking Companies — when I spoke with NASTC head David Owen this morning he said of the letter and its signatories that he was “glad that they finally came around to agree with the positions that we’ve been taking since late 2009.” NASTC, you’ll recall, filed the first (and successful) lawsuit over the FMCSA’s encouragement of public use of CSA data, and was a large part in the recently failed ASECTT  lawsuit that took the argument for removing scores further.

While I’ve covered all of that to one degree or another, the argument for removing the scores from public view was bolstered heavily after the GAO’s report on the subject early this year, supplementing in my mind my own close looks at the subject of ranking fairness. And Overdrive readers have thought so, too. Among most of you, there’s clearly little love lost for the CSA initiative as it stands today. Reference these results from polling that ran with the June installments of the CSA’s Fallout series

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As with NASTC’s efforts (extending back years), that polling has been quite a while ago now. For the 10 trucking business associations signing yesterday’s open letter to DOT, perhaps it’s taken this long to establish enough common ground among them to make the move already. Or they were waiting for new leadership at FMCSA — as we know, under Anne Ferro at least, the dig-in-the-heels strategy on public scoring has ruled the day since the program’s public launch in December 2010. And among some of the chatterers of the trucking world, I’ve learned, her imminent departure has been at least rumored since early Spring, plenty of time to get to work on a quorum. 

To the agency’s credit, they at least de-emphasize the CSA SMS percentile rankings (scores), with the update to the public display. But a large majority of readers agree with the CSA Coalition letter’s implication that those changes are only putting “lipstick on a pig,” as evidenced in the poll at the top of this post. Bedrock problems of data sufficiency and scoring methodology far outweigh the cosmetic issues in the display.

Public scrutiny of safety ratings in the CSA SMS is live with the recent update to the public display. Placed front and center of a carrier’s front page in the CSA SMS now is carrier’s current safety rating, often at odds with what percentile rankings in the SMS seem to say about the carrier's safety.

Public scrutiny of safety ratings in the CSA SMS is live with the recent update to the public display. Placed front and center of a carrier’s front page in the CSA SMS now is carrier’s current safety rating, often at odds with what percentile rankings in the SMS seem to say about the carrier’s safety.

The agency has created other problems with the update, too, given new prominence of carriers’ Safer safety rating front and center of the display profile, emphasizing the often-very-clear disconnect between the safety rating and the SMS that exists today. I wrote about that disconnect in July CSA’s Fallout reporting.

Likewise in recent months the changes to the DataQs violation-challenge process have given operators the power to force recognition of court verdicts on citations, if the change still assumes guilt in the CSA system before the court rules — and minus a citation, owner-operators and fleets will be stuck with the violation unless the issuing state/agency sees fit to remove it, as I wrote about earlier this month.

You can download a copy of the CSA Coalition letter to DOT via this link. Comments are already coming in on the effort, and it’s a healthy dose of skepticism, ultimately, that rules the day on the question of whether FMCSA will be responsive to the call for score removal. Reader Thomas Little may best have paraphrased the thoughts of many, including myself, commenting on Overdrive‘s Facebook page. With CSA, “FMCSA fully intended,” he wrote, to “let the industry do their policing for them. Spoon-feed the detailed data into the marketplace to drive consumer choice of motor carrier [and] insurance rates, and give the ambulance chasers one more tool in their arsenal. And then stand back and pretend that wasn’t how CSA was supposed to be used.

“I like what the trade orgs are trying to do, but they won’t be able to unring that bell.”

What do you think?

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