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CSA’s crash flaw: Enforcement, accident rates do not mesh


The article below is part of an ongoing, in-depth series on the U.S. Department of Transportation's Compliance, Safety, Accountability program that analyzes federal inspection, investigation and crash data and offers original reporting. Overdrive and CCJ editors have built a site dedicated to hosting the stories, interactive maps and downloadable data at

truck wreck csaThe largest truck fleets show crash rates well above that of one-truck carriers, yet the megafleet trucks and drivers are inspected at only a fourth of the rate of the single-truck operations, according to Commercial Carrier Journal and Overdrive’s analysis of federal data. Single-truck independent drivers are 3.5 times more likely to be put out of service than drivers for carriers with 500 or more trucks.

The carrier crash data was compiled by CCJ publisher Randall-Reilly Business Media’s RigDig Business Intelligence unit. It covers the first two years of the Compliance Safety Accountability program, launched in December 2010 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

FMCSA did not respond to a request for an interview on this topic.

For one-truck operators, these enforcement disparities entail not simply the day-to-day hassles of dealing with a well-armed regulatory regime. The bad ratings that come with violations and out-of-service orders make it increasingly difficult to secure freight in a safety-scoring landscape tilted in favor of their larger competitors.

CSA graph 1While single-truck operators are the safest, accident rates – measured per million miles traveled – spike when those operators start adding trucks. The highest rates were found in fleets of two to 15 trucks. This isn’t surprising, given that fleets in that range often have no full-time manager – yet alone a full-time safety director – and tend to be less restrictive in screening prospective drivers.

But at the extreme ends of carrier size, the disconnect between driver out-of-service rates and carrier crash rates highlights seemingly intractable problems for small fleets at roadside, says Richard Wilson, regulatory manager with Trans Products Trans Services. Wilson believes, as do others, that too many inspectors, as well as FMCSA investigators, view small fleets as low-hanging fruit. For inspectors, the small fleets are easy revenue through citations. For investigators, it’s the numbers game – activity measured by fleet count – public agencies play to justify their existence.

“It’s much more efficient to compile large numbers of interventions on smaller carriers that provide the numbers necessary to meet the standards of the budget offices,” Wilson says.

The stellar accident record of one-truck independents, in some sense, is to be expected. “A guy that owns his own truck has his life savings in that truck” in many cases, says Phil McGuire, president of Texas-based McGuire Transportation, which has roughly a 100-truck mix of owner-operator and (mostly) company-owned trucks. “He doesn’t want to put a scratch on it, much less be in an accident.” Managing only yourself, McGuire adds, “you can do a lot better” keeping a handle on safety.

When carriers of any size have negative CSA percentile rankings in the public BASICs  (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories), brokers, shippers and insurance companies now are more interested. J. Webb Kline, owner of a Pennsylvania-based six-truck fleet, said in February he’d lost in the neighborhood of  $1.5 million in sales over the past year because brokers and shippers looked at the fleet’s Hours of Service Compliance BASIC score and determined it was a high risk.

CSA graph 2“Profit from CSA in being able to bid out your business better – or CSA will profit from you,” says David Saunders, chief executive officer of Texas-headquartered Compliance Safety Systems, which administers drug and alcohol screening programs for carriers. “Small and large carriers will have to defend themselves with customers. Say my [public BASICs] are high as a small carrier, but I don’t have a high crash rate with DOT recordables – ‘Why won’t you do business with me?’ ”

The Crash Indicator BASIC is one where owner-operators, carriers and drivers with a fairly clean crash history can benefit, says Saunders. That’s often true even for those, like Kline, with high scores in other BASICs.

The largest all-leased-owner-operator carrier in the nation, Landstar System, was able to exploit its Crash Indicator rating, says Joe Beacom, vice president of safety. In 2012, Landstar Inway – along with Landstar Ranger, one of the company’s primary truckload fleets – moved above the intervention threshold in the Hours of Service Compliance BASIC.

That raised concerns for some shippers and also marked the carrier for federal attention. Landstar voluntarily began to show shippers its private Crash Indicator percentile ranking as a way to prove its safety in ways other BASICs didn’t. “It’s 9 or so – the top 10 percent best in accident frequency in the peer group,” Beacom said.

Landstar also began requiring use of electronic onboard recorders for hours monitoring for all new lessees with Inway and Ranger. This helped turn the scores around and put the divisions back below threshold.

For small fleets with a few accidents that were not their fault, however, the opposite of Landstar’s case may well be true. Independent owner-operator Melvin Davis tells of his father’s four-truck BMD Inc. fleet, based in Michigan. Despite having a virtually perfect CSA profile – with none of the five public BASICs registering any score whatsoever – BMD has seen two accidents associated with one of its drivers in the past two years.

“Neither one of the accidents were his fault,” Davis says. “The first one definitely wasn’t, as a woman spun out on the ice in front of him. The second one was in Indianapolis on a blind curve” where traffic had stopped unexpectedly. “He was never charged with the accident,” says Davis.

And yet both accidents are part of BMD’s Crash Indicator score because there is no accounting for blame in that scoring.

“If it’s not your fault, how can you be slammed for it?” Davis asks, reflecting the opinion of many in the industry.

The conclusion of FMCSA’s research into whether it can start to account for fault in carrier crash data is due this year. Speaking to the Maryland Motor Truck Association’s Western Maryland Chapter in December 2011, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said the goal of the research “is to code every interstate motor carrier crash as either ‘accountable’ or ‘not accountable’ to the motor carrier and the driver. However, this is an enormous task, and it will take time to implement.” Since then, Ferro has been less emphatic about the goals of the crash-accountability study. Other representatives in the agency have started questioning whether such an accounting is even possible in most cases.

For carriers with crashes on the record, says Saunders, the other crucial piece of the carrier self-defense pie relative to CSA is the driver and vehicle out-of-service rate. “Rather than being hung up on how un-American CSA is and how the federal government messed up, polish the image of who you are as a company and a driver,” he says. “Look for a way to position yourself as a driver and as a company to … be able to tell a shipper or insurance company” you’re dependable.

“If every time I get in that truck I have a chance of being put out of service because I violated a rule, that shipper won’t conduct business with me,” Saunders adds. “The insurance company won’t work with me.”




We, as small trucking companies, were doomed when CSA came into being without ANY form of accountability. They don't answer to anyone. They are known for enforcing regulations blindly, without applying any type of logic and there is too much power in too few hands. CSA could have done wonders for the trucking industry in general had they included input from organizations like OOIDA and NATSC, instead it was left to the government. The fact that this conversation is being held is definitive reminder of that.


Pretty sad for the trucking industry, Government is crushing us and the people involved. My words when CSA was born, They will crush the industry in 10 years. Looks like I was wrong. Will be less than 10. Safety is a priority and I agree to get them off the highways. This is NOT the way to do it. Education should be the priority for the safety of all motorists. 


We've finally gotten below the threshold on HOS that most of our customers require, but still not under the golden triangle. We'll likely get there next month. But, the notion that you can convince most of these companies to load you isn't all that realistic. A few of them asked me to compose a letter, explaining our score, which they accepted, but most of them simply wouldn't load us, even though in a couple of instances we had won awards with them for our service. Ironically, one of those companies had a higher score than we did. We don't have single driver who has had any kind of accident or violation in over 10 years, and yet we're carrying this 2 year old curse around with us.


were a small 3 truck fleet and the csa scoring system is killing us. just yesterday the same truck got inspected twice within 2 hours in the same state. We have high scores from drivers that are no longer with us. When we went to renew our insurance, NOBODY wanted to write us a policy because they said, "if you have 1 OOS violation we cant write your". So now, because of a publicy displayed scoring system which really should not be for the public especially when they dont know how to interpret them. We have lost TONS of business because of insurance companies, brokers, shippers, turning us down simply of a high score in an area. Even the DOT officer that we had come and do an audit said that there is a disclaimer on the website that says a conclusion should not be made about a carriers safety simply based on these scores, so if they should not be doing it, then why provide the scores in the first place. I / we would happily join a class action suite for discrimination against the feds, brokers, shippers and insurance companies that continually discriminate against small carriers and owner operators based simply on a score. Why doesnt OOIDA and other organization that say they support the owner operator and small fleets do anything? Why cant the website simply say, "go or no-go" for the public to see and not give them information they use against us in a financial damaging way. Im pretty sure that we dont need trucks inspected by every state every day, especally twice a day in a two hour period. How about accountability or a rating for the DOT officers for the public to see that has a HIGH PERCENTAGE of continually giving out NUMEROUS violations. Just a couple of days ago, one of our drivers overheard an inspector training another inspector telling him, "I have to write up something, right?" This system is out of control and hurts us small guys, so to all of the small guys out there and the organizations that are supposed to be out there for us, "LETS GET TOGETHER AND CHANGE THIS NOW!!!!!"

Todd Dills is Senior Editor of Overdrive magazine and writes from Nashville, Tenn. He frequently covers business, regulatory and lifestyle topics for the magazine and at His work on the “CSA’s Data Trail” series in Overdrive about the federal CSA program was awarded the highest honor in trade journalism – the “Grand Neal” – by American Business Media at the 2014 Jesse H. Neal Awards. Dills’ Channel 19 blog covers a grab bag of on-highway hearsay, owner-operator news and driver views from the roadways the nation over. His work in trucking journalism builds on a background of news feature, fiction and other creative writing and editing. Find him here at the Channel 19 blog and via his Twitter feed, or send tips to or via phone at 205-907-2481.