Lawsuit over FMCSA guidance on CSA scores dismissed

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SMS preview
Public-display changes to the SMS website, still under carrier preview, as proposed would highlight said disconnect in some instances, given carriers’ safety ratings are proposed to display front and center on their SMS profiles.

In a brief to media and members, the board of the Alliance for Safe, Efficient and Competitive Truck Transportation reported that the suit it brought against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2012 had been decided in favor of FMCSA.

The suit alleged FMCSA had overstepped its bounds with publication of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program’s Safety Measurement System, which ranks carriers on a numerical curve in five public BASIC categories of measurement. The SMS and associated guidance, ASECTT originally argued, constituted a de facto safety rating in the eyes of the agency, and needed to go through a formal rulemaking and public-comment process.

The D.C. Court of Appeals, the ASECTT board’s statement noted, “took FMCSA at its word — that the guidance was not intended to transform SMS scores into a new safety rating system, nor to promote SMS as a better carrier-selection tool than safety ratings.”

ASECTT believes the court made no judgment relative to the merit of the CSA SMS, ultimately, and that the “practical result” of the decision would be the status quo: uncertainty on appropriate practices among brokers and shippers relative to the CSA SMS scores in carrier selection. 

FMCSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but in the intital installment of Overdrive‘s CSA’s Fallout series in the June issue of the magazine and available online via this link, FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement Bill Quade, speaking as if a broker or shipper selecting a carrier, noted a greater confidence in SMS than in the current safety rating system. “I would use a Conditional [rated] carrier with good performance data [in the CSA SMS],” he noted, “before I would use a Satisfactory carrier with bad performance data.”

Find more about issues around carrier selection and the CSA SMS in Part 1 of the CSA’s Fallout series.Find more about issues around carrier selection and the CSA SMS in Part 1 of the CSA’s Fallout series.

ASECTT argues that, “given the Agency’s continued touting of its seriously flawed SMS methodology and its misuse by Plaintiff’s bar to extend liability up the supply chain, the time has come for Congress to address the preemption issue and protect the shipping public against frivolous lawsuits aimed at making the shipping public responsible for the acts or omissions of their regulated motor carrier vendors.”

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Legislation that would require a motor carrier “hiring standard” to be established to address such issues was introduced in May. 

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