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CSA: unfair enforcement ‘disparity’ or appropriate safety choices?

(EDITOR’s NOTE: This is Part 4 of a series on CSA, based on several presentations, discussion and follow-up from the recent American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition. Part 1 focuses on whether CSA is, essentially, a new safety rating. In Part 2, FMCSA explains changes to the carrier safety information website. In Part 3, representatives of ATA and FMCSA  debate the program’s effectiveness.

Vigillo graphicVigillo founder and CEO Steve Bryan is quite the slide-showman, and his PowerPoint performances – in which he reshuffles CSA data in amusing and sometimes startling ways – are typically well received by trucking audiences. A gathering of carrier execs for the recent ATA MC&E was no different – except, maybe, for the presence the government’s point man on CSA, who did not appreciate his agency’s hard work being “misused.”

Not that trucking companies think Compliance, Safety, Accountability is really all that funny, either. The joke, after all, could be on them.

Indeed, Bryan opens his portion of the CSA session with a photo of the company’s Portland, Ore., headquarters and points out that the Vigillo sign does not have a DOT number on it.

“I sometimes am guilty of being perhaps a little more vocal, a little more critical, with respect to what we see out there in the CSA data,” he said. “My company is not subject to interventions.”

He emphasizes that the presentation is based on the FMCSA’s own inspection and violation data, and his number-crunching this time around focuses on the huge number of Vehicle Maintenance violations that are written compared to all other BASICs – more than 80 percent of the total.

So Bryan poses his thesis: “It is clearly maintenance that receives the overwhelming attention from enforcement. Doesn’t it seem intuitive that we should focus on traffic enforcement?”

He drills a little deeper, comparing the number of lamp violations to speeding violations. Nationally, that ratio is about 12 to 1. In Indiana, known to truckers for aggressive speed enforcement, the ratio is only 2 to 1. Yet in Texas officers write 321 times more lighting violations than speeding tickets.

Additionally, Texas enforcement personnel write 16 times more windshield wiper violations than all of the drug and alcohol violations in the U.S. combined.

The point, Bryan emphasizes, isn’t to pick on Texas, but to illustrate the wide disparity between what enforcement is focused on in different parts of the country.

“I think slowing trucks down probably will have more impact than a few trailer lights that might not be functioning,” Bryan said.

(A more complete discussion of the Vigillo analysis of enforcement “hot spots,” as well as a video of a previous Bryan presentation, can be found here.)

While the trucking company representatives in the room gave Bryan a boisterous hand, the man who oversees all of FMCSA’s enforcement programs – and who was also on the panel –  was not amused.

Bill Quade, FMCSA associate administrator for enforcement and program delivery, had already told the audience that he tends “to be a little bit defensive” about CSA, and that he’s “very, very proud” of the development and implementation.

He was quick to discount the significance of the Vigillo enforcement disparity.

“Data is dangerous,” Quade said.

And Bryan misses the point. FMCSA encourages states to develop commercial vehicle safety plans targeting their own specific issues – in fact, Congress mandates it, Quade explains.

“I don’t know if we’re ever going to get to national uniformity,” he said. “We fund the states and have a certain ability to influence them, but at the end of the day there’s the thing about the Constitution – there is a state role and there is a federal role.”

Additionally, some states choose to spend more on commercial vehicle enforcement than the federal allotment, which also impacts the comparative data.

As to the disparity between speeding violations and lamp citations, “we’ve got about 10,000 people who know how to inspect a truck in this country; we have about 500,000 who know how to pull somebody over and give them a speeding ticket,” Quade said – so truck inspectors need to be inspecting trucks.

Additionally, Quade points out that oftentimes traffic enforcement does not include a truck inspection, so a speeding ticket might not make into the carrier database. (That’s an issue FMCSA is “embarrassed about” and one the agency is working on, he adds.)

Of course, when the man who played a key role in rolling out CSA and its data-driven framework says that “data is dangerous,” it’s worth a follow up.

And Quade clarified, reasonably, that he referred to Bryan’s “misuse” of the data. Except, of course, those carriers who grade out poorly under CSA would say it’s the misuse of data by regulators that’s dangerous.

Bryan, given his own turn to respond later, stands by the Vigillo analysis.

“Vigillo doesn’t have people out gathering this data. FMCSA does. We’re simply looking at it. I don’t think I’m misusing anything,” he told CCJ.

Bryan says enforcement personnel often appear with him on similar panels at state trucking association meetings, and are in the audience.

“I try to strike a balance where I’m respectful,” he said. “But I work for the industry and if I see something truckers need to know, I’m likely to say it.”

Bryan notes he has discovered “a huge gap in the education” of enforcement.

“I bet if you gave them a CSA test they would not do very well. There’s been so much work done in the industry in educating everybody, all the way down to the drivers. I don’t think that’s happened nearly as effectively on the enforcement side,” Bryan said. “We’re very anxious to spread the gospel. If there’s an opportunity to work with enforcement, let’s do it. All we know is what we see in the data.”

A representative of local, state and federal motor carrier safety officials, however, insists CSA hasn’t changed the way enforcement does its business at the roadside, and that differing enforcement priorities are appropriate and necessary.

“Enforcement isn’t making stuff up out there. A regulation is a regulation. Compliance is compliance,” says Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “The thing that people need to be careful about is looking at the data without having any context to it. Every state is different, for a whole host of reasons. Texas is going to have different issues than California. “

He cites the number of personnel, the inspection facilities, even the weather.

“I don’t call it enforcement ‘disparity,’ I call it enforcement ‘differences,’” Keppler told CCJ. “It’s not an apple-to-apples comparison. The conversation needs to be ‘outcomes’ rather than ‘inputs.’ Overall, crash rates and violations are coming down.”

Ultimately, carriers also have unique circumstances, including different equipment for different operations and freight.

“Enforcement’s not going to be uniform because the industry’s not uniform,” Keppler said. “We need to be real careful about how we’re talking about this.”

Rickey Gooch
Rickey Gooch

Mr. Jones has greatly helped the cause of Justice for Truckers. He is another leader in the fight aganist the rise of the warrior cop and the agency that is driving the problem of drivers lives and careers being destroyed.


The FMCSA applies CSA rules without any consideration of the rights of drivers or their famlies. It has and continues to cause tremendious problems. Our industry only ask that the FMCSA treat the people of trucking as American citizens with rights and with respect. If we could just get them to understand this we would not be having the problems we are having today. Make adjustments to CSA, law enforcement officers and flawed rules and attitudes. Truck accidents are up again and this was the measuring stick the FMCSA chose to grade their success and failure. 


I have seen some changes in William Quade. He is beginning to understand the negitive impact some officers are having on innocent drivers. Many officers today don't just want to shoot a driver in the foot they want to unload the clip on them and they are doing just that!


Rickey Gooch

Justice for Truckers


As a Driveaway operation we do not own, lease, or rent any CMV'S, but we do move them for our customers under a contract for each move. We have authority and or own US DOT number, The CSA rating system is totally unfair for our type of operation, because I have to list at least 1 vehicle as owned when I renew our UCR, our rating is based upon that 1 vehicle, when in fact we move an average of 40 vehicles a day through out the US. One size does not fit all and it never has, more regulations are not the answer, and common sense should come into play when rating a carrier or enforcing regs out on the highway. I have been in the industry for over 30 years and the frustration continues to mount and it is becoming more difficult to stand up for the FMCSA and their mission, and less don't even talk about state regs, it is impossible to keep up with them all, especially since states do not send out notices when the change or implement new regs. Thanks for the opportunity to give my view.

Gary VanZant

Safety Director

Norton Transport



Ok my two cents: first Data Q for challenge some of these "violations" are sent to the officer who issued the violation. Do you really think that he is going to say Oh I made a mistake, here let me change that? I think not, there is no practical way to challenge in Data Q and have it come out favorable to the driver. Second, I had a truck stopped at the Canadian border and put out of service with 3 yes 3 pages of violation. I brought the truck to the shop and had them do an inspection on it ( the annual inspection was just about up anyway). Well guess what, my truck passed it's annual inspection, sticker and all. So the moral of the story is that these officer DO WRITE citations and other points against a driver and company. Another driver was put out of service at a Utah scale, the reason, they said his medical card was expired. The driver showed him his current medical card. The state received the copy of the medical card, but they did not tell the driver it had to have a form attached with it. So now he has a $550 ticket and has to go to court to fight this. Clearly the officer saw his medical card, saw that  it was just renewed 2 months prior. So why the need for the ticket? Shouldn't he have just told the driver to contact the state and resolve the matter? I think not, Utah is counting on $550 into their coffers.  Also as for the point system, as a driver/company points drop off a company that had a 50% rating can suddenly find itself with a 75% rating now, with no new points added. This implies that numerous companies are unsafe and that Is not the truth.  

Thomas Creel
Thomas Creel

In order to interpret the data that has been gathered that CSA uses to push the Safety envelope, you need to add in the amount of freight moving at the time to rationalize the data being used. EX....If you enact "Hours of Service" laws to have a more safe highway and while these laws were being implemented the amount of Freight moving on the highway drops 20% so there are fewer trucks moving on the highway then of course the data will show less accidents but this is not necessarily due to the HOS rule it is also due to the less trucks on the highway. Every new piece of legislation that is pushed at Trucking needs to be re-evaluated as to the amount of good or harm it is doing to the industry. I am 100% for keeping our highways safe but every new rule being created slows the productivity of the driver, increases the cost of transportation which raises the cost of goods on the shelf for the consumer. In addition to driving the economy further into the abiss which it is trying to recover from it also adds ammunition to the ever growing sue happy nation we have today with outrageous monies being awarded by juges (EX Coke was hit with a million dollar law suit over a cell phone used by a rule). Trucks on the highway today are looking more and more like rolling piggy banks for anyone that has an attorney. This is also driving up the cost of Insurance and adding to the cost of Trucking which again is passed on the the consumer by higher trucking rates. With the cost of goods on the shelf ever increasing it chips away even more of the consumer dollar. The bottom line is common sense, fairness, and accountability. The laws governing the trucking industry were already sufficient to keep the highways safe. Increase the fines and penalties for not obeying the current laws instead of continuing to make more laws. To many laws will and are regulating the trucking industry right into the ground. You have to also remember Truck drivers are HUMAN they do make mistakes they are not Robots. Treat the mistakes as such not Amageddon. Use common sense in interpeting data, there are only so many accidents that can be prevented. You will never have 0 accidents on highways.


It's becoming clear that the correlation between CSA scores and ACTUAL safety performance is very weak.  It's more of a function of the states your trucks operate in, and the type of equipment you operate, e.g., the number of light bulbs on your trucks.

John Mueller CDS COSS
John Mueller CDS COSS

Want to reduce car - truck crashes and reduce injury and death?  Implement an updated CSA type system to replace the flawed, antiquated system used to measure the safety performance of Individual automobile operators.  Cars cause @ 80% of car - truck crashes.  Enforcement and analysis should be a level playing field for both segments of the motoring public.


Just be thankful you don't have CVOR to deal with like carriers in Ontario, Canada have. What was once a program to be proud of has now been turned into a cash cow for the province. I don't believe there has been a CVOR audit yet that has not generated fines ... at least enough to cover the cost of the audit, but usually considerably more.

The CVOR system has degenerated into a penal system that breeds mediocrity. To achieve "excellent" carrier status is the worst possible outcome. CSA is at least founded on education and correction, where carriers are given the opportunity to improve. CVOR vigorously searches a carrier for faults, and when it finds one, it viciously attacks it over, and over, and over. The intent appears to be to drive the carrier out of business, rather than steering the carrier to a path of improvement.

Let's hope that in the end CSA will avoid the pitfalls of CVOR.

nick Justice
nick Justice

I think the worst thing about CSA is you can go from a 25 In a category to bad literally overnight, but it takes 2 years to go away...the CSA's formula they use is flawed in the sense that no matter what you do to "improve your CSA" the only thing that really affects your CSA is time....a loooong time.


While I am sure that the FMCSA rep felt a bit awkward he has no control over was local law enforcement is doing. He only can ask that they consider better enforcement of other violations. In the defense of cops they have to make decisions based on many things, maintenance issues might be important in that state or county. If you are out on the highways you see many companies that equipment that are in violation and they feel that these are critical issues for them in supporting safety.

The numbers are interesting.

Safety Mentor
Safety Mentor


 I have not had the same experience with the state of Utah.  My driver submitted his med card to his issuing state but they did not have it entered.  The port inspector contacted the issuing state and they faxed a correction.  No harm, no fine.  The problem was corrected.  Not my driver's fault, not the inspector's fault.  Issuing state's fault? You bet.  But this is a new process and there will be a learning curve.  I will give them some time to adjust and then follow appropriate channels if the problem continues.  Sometimes trying to work with the system is better than working against it.  It sure is a lot less frustrating.



 FMCSA should feel "uncomfortable" about the quality of data being returned to the agency from local law enforcement agencies. FMCSA has been encouraging local agencies to become more involved in CMV enforcement and as more gleefully jump into CMV enforcement, it's naive to believe they are all doing it for "safety reasons."

Kevin Jones is Senior Editor, Trucking Media, and writes from his home in Little Rock, Ark. His Fleet Street blog features whatever strikes his fancy and has at least a little connection to trucks, or drivers, or highways. Or David Allan Coe. (Google "the perfect country and western song" if you're not nearly as old as Kevin is.) You can also keep up with Kevin by following his Twitter feed (@KevinJonesCCJ) or just drop him a line: