Resurgent rebellion against the prospect of CSA scores returning to public view

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Updated Jun 22, 2019

I don’t claim to know just from where or whom came the provision in the House appropriations committee’s transportation funding bill that would return problematic CSA Safety Measurement System scores to public view. Since we reported on it a few weeks back, it’s easy to see where pushback is coming from. As was the case in the early days of CSA, when few people seemed to recognize the problematic nature of the scoring systems’ dramatic swings for smaller carriers, it’s a loose coalition of groups such as the Motor Carriers for Regulatory Reform, the ASECTT group, NASTC and many others who have been the most vocal speaking out against the draft language.

As noted above, that draft language would, as my colleague James Jaillet reported two weeks ago, require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to make carriers’ Safety Measurement System scores within the CSA program publicly available once again. That’s in spite of provisions to the contrary in the FAST Act, which pulled the scores from view pending a successful revamp of the program to address issues, including those dramatic swings in scoring for the smallest carriers.

Roadside inspections and associated violation data are much of what the CSA SMS is based on, complicating the entire reliability of the system, many readers feel. | Photo by Tom QuimbyRoadside inspections and associated violation data are much of what the CSA SMS is based on, complicating the entire reliability of the system, many readers feel. | Photo by Tom Quimby

Transportation Attorney Henry Seaton forwarded a series of letters sent to individual Congressmembers by coalition participants pushing back against the move to run around the FAST Act provisions to reform CSA through the appropriations process, the avenue by which Congress allocates funds for federal programs. No doubt other individual truckers and small fleet owners are doing the same on their own.

As Jaillet also reported, a reconciliation process over competing bills in from House and Senate on appropriations seems at least somewhat likely later in the year. If the House bill contains the language on returning CSA scores to public view, watchers like Seaton worry about such being a provision easily overlooked by a distracted body (i.e., Congress — as Seaton put it, “Nobody can claim be a prophet about what Congress is going to do”).

CSA was designed with an express purpose of being used as a law enforcement prioritization tool — get too high scores in too many categories and get audited for safety performance more in-depth. While that’s at least somewhat problematic for a variety of reasons, given the nature of the scoring system, it was always the public availability of CSA scores that seemed the most problematic aspect of the program to truckers of all shapes and sizes. Putting a quick-glance number on supposed safety categories, in theory, seems like a good and relatively uncomplicated idea. In practice, it proved none too simple a prospect, with incredibly adverse scoring sometimes the result of just few minor violations for very small carriers, in the worst cases. Something designed for enforcement’s investigatory purposes was put out to the public to become judge and jury with numbers to back it up. Broad and particular impacts of CSA SMS scores’ return to easy public availability might be felt just as they were before the switch: in trucking insurance rates, the ability to do business with brokers conditioning business on the SMS  and its numbers, and more.

The House’s DOT funding bill, also containing language pre-empting any change in the 30-minute break requirement in the hours rule among other trucking measures, moved out of the House appropriations committee more than a week ago now, from where it will go to the full House. If it passes the House intact, reconciliation process with a Senate funding bill remains likely.

More on the history of public CSA scores follows (most recent post first). FYI, I’ll be out for about a week and a half beginning today — in the meantime, if you’ve got a tip for us, continue to send my way. But if it’s urgent, get in touch with my colleague James Jaillet via jamesj[at]overdriveonline.com: 

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