FMCSA makes further CSA changes
Agency softens terminology, withholds cargo BASIC scores
The term “deficient” is no longer in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s vocabulary when it comes to the Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) – at least not in public. On Nov. 18, the agency announced additional changes to the Safety Measurement System, which was scheduled to replace SafeStat in early December. One revision changes how FMCSA presents carriers’ Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) scores to the public. The second recalibrates the Cargo-Related BASIC and withholds from public view carriers’ percentiles and intervention status within that BASIC.
In August, FMCSA announced various SMS revisions, including changing the measure of exposure in the Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator and Controlled Substances/Alcohol BASICs. The agency also revised the severity weights for some roadside inspection violations and removed size and weight violations altogether, saying CSA wasn’t an effective way to address those problems.
FMCSA said its latest changes were based on feedback and analysis from the three-month data preview period that allowed carriers to see where they stood in each BASIC following the August changes. These would appear to be the final revisions in the SMS before FMCSA makes the data public, an event tentatively scheduled for Dec. 6. As CCJ went to press, however, at least one lawsuit was expected to be filed that would seek to block public disclosure of SMS percentiles and intervention status in all BASICs pending a rulemaking.
Mostly about the public
In presenting SMS data to the public, instead of “deficient,” FMCSA said Nov. 18 that it will use the term “alert” when a carrier’s scores exceed the intervention threshold within a particular BASIC. In addition, the highlight color will change from red to orange, and the language will change to clarify that BASIC results signify the carrier is prioritized for an FMCSA intervention. FMCSA said the feedback was that the public display of SMS results should indicate that BASIC percentiles over the threshold signify the carrier is prioritized for an FMCSA intervention, but “not signify or otherwise imply a ‘safety rating’ or safety fitness determination.”
FMCSA’s second revision stems, in part, from the SMS changes it made in August. When the agency decided to remove vehicle size and weight violations from the Cargo-Related BASIC, carriers with other types of violations – especially flatbed and hazardous materials operations – instantly fared worse in the safety event grouping for that BASIC.
The agency said feedback from the three-month preview following the August changes “identified a concern that the BASIC was over-representing certain industry segments and potentially creating a misleading safety alert warning.” In response, FMCSA analyzed those concerns and concluded that the Cargo-Related BASIC should be recalibrated based on input on the cargo securement severity weights.
FMCSA’s other steps regarding the Cargo-Related BASIC directly address the public disclosure concerns raised by flatbed and hazmat carriers. “Also, the agency is conducting additional analysis to further understand the impact on the different industry segments of a carrier’s exposure in this BASIC,” the agency said. “During this analysis period, the BASIC results will continue to be an effective intervention prioritization tool for enforcement personnel based on sound safety principles.” So for now, the percentiles and intervention status will be accessible only to the FMCSA enforcement community and motor carriers.
The American Trucking Associations endorsed FMCSA’s changes. “ATA continues to support the objectives of CSA 2010, FMCSA’s safety monitoring and measurement program, and we are pleased with the Agency’s decision to continue working on its Cargo-Related BASIC to get it right before it’s made public,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer.
ATA noted that it had identified the Cargo-Related BASIC as a component of the CSA program that needed additional work and presented evidence showing that scores in that category do not accurately reflect carrier safety performance. The association also said it agrees with FMCSA’s decision to change “deficient” to “alert” on its public website “and to include pop-up disclaimer language alerting users to the intent of the scores, and cautioning against misuse.” FMCSA now plans to withhold scores in two BASICs – Crash Indicator and Cargo-Related – of the seven in CSA.
Headed to court?
For some in the industry, FMCSA’s concerns about the impact on various industry segments holds true for all of the BASICs in CSA. Barring any further changes by the agency, at least three groups – the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, the Expedite Alliance of North America and Air & Expedited Motor Carriers Association – planned to file a lawsuit by the end of November to block public disclosure as currently planned. Just as flatbed and hazmat carriers argued that the SMS hurt them, the associations argue that FMCSA needs to look at the impact on small businesses as a segment. They point to various aspects of the SMS methodology that make the results unsuitable for comparing and contrasting carriers.
Although FMCSA plans a rulemaking next year to rate carriers based solely on the SMS, public disclosure will have a major impact on carriers, the groups argue. Due to vicarious liability concerns, shippers and brokers will need to avoid carriers listed as deficient or who otherwise are labeled as less than safe, they argue. Otherwise, plaintiffs in crash lawsuits could be able to claim that the shippers and brokers were negligent.
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