Risk & Reward: Industry, FMCSA at odds over CSA

By Todd Dills on

CSA'S DATA TRAIL

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 CCJdigital.com/csa.

inspection

NOTE: Working with CCJ and Overdrive publisher Randall-Reilly Business Media’s RigDig Business Intelligence unit, we analyzed inspection and scoring data at the end of the Compliance Safety Accountability program’s second year since going live in December 2010. Here we report the results of that analysis, offering insights into enforcement patterns and what you can do to keep your business in the clear. This is the final part in a three-part series. Click here to see Parts 1 and 2. 

FMCSA insists that its system is not biased against any carriers. The ASECTT (Alliance for Safe, Efficient and Competitive Truck Transportation) coalition of trade associations, carriers, brokers, shippers and other service providers that has taken the agency to federal court believes otherwise. They argue that the system, amplified by FMCSA’s guidance on what the scores mean, puts smaller carriers unfairly at risk as shippers and brokers use the scores as de facto safety ratings.

Insurance companies also are paying more attention to CSA. Plaintiff’s attorneys have succeeded in using concepts of negligent entrustment and vicarious liability against carriers, brokers and shippers to get larger settlements to suits that involved carriers with BASIC alerts, says Tom Dickmeyer, chief executive officer of the Cline Wood insurance agency. In general, the less expertise of the company and/or its underwriters in trucking, the “heavier weight CSA is going to get” in the underwriting process due to ease of access to the public system, he says.

The agency denies that CSA’s SMS constitutes a safety rating and washes its hands of how the data is treated in the real world. “SMS quantifies the on-road safety performance of motor carriers so that FMCSA can prioritize them for intervention,” said spokesman Duane DeBruyne. “Use of the SMS for purposes other than those identified may produce unintended results and inaccurate conclusions.”

The reasons for disparities in the system can be found in how it works, FMCSA says. Larger carriers, with a much larger number of inspections and violations in total, easily exceed the minimum threshold for scoring. So the percentage of carriers with alerts in the BASICs is in line with normal expectations.

On the single-truck owner-operator side, the opposite is true. Just one out of 10 companies with five or fewer trucks has “a score above one of our thresholds,” said a senior FMCSA official in January. Any carrier that fails to meet the “data sufficiency standards” – numbers of inspections with an associated violation within two years – in each BASIC does not receive a public score.

For carriers large and small, this irregularity can sting in different ways. It has become a problem in efforts to secure freight from brokers and shippers, which in January almost 10 percent of Overdrive readers called the No. 1 problem with CSA.

The business impact of this and other scoring scenarios is what’s driving the lawsuit against FMCSA. The suit primarily seeks relief from agency “encouragement” of broker and shipper communities to use CSA scoring data in business decisions until the data quality issues are shored up and a rulemaking process for a new Safety Fitness Determination is finished. The SFD would allow use of CSA data to rate carrier safety as an absolute value.

The suit alleges FMCSA has gone beyond its mandate to reduce crashes by providing the systems’ rankings to the public and offering guides on their use in areas like carrier selection.

It “wasn’t until recently that there was any consequence to having a high score” in one of the BASICs, says Dickmeyer. Today, as brokers get “a lot more pressure with regard to lawsuits coming back on them for the acts of motor carriers that they’ve used, they’re getting much more diligent about who they go with.” Meanwhile, some shippers “won’t entrust their loads to you … if you have high scores or a couple of alerts.”

While the lawsuit threatens to push CSA in one direction, FMCSA is pushing it the opposite way. A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to make CSA’s SMS the basis for a safe/unsafe-to-use final determination is expected from the agency this year. If no changes are made in the data sufficiency standards and other scoring issues, it could become more difficult for many independents and small carriers to win business.

Todd Dills

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 OverdriveOnline.com. 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 tdills@randallreilly.com or via phone at 205-907-2481.

8 comments
Big Boat Hauler
Big Boat Hauler

It blows my mind that Uship gets away with no broker authority ,bidding out loads to illegal transporters, and the DOT does nothing.

Talk about putting the public in "Grave "danger!

hateNrage
hateNrage

We give our drivers a bonus also for receiving good inspections.  I cannot tell you how many times me and my drivers have been pulled over "randomly",  detained,  then told we where free to go.  Then if you ask for a report, you are told " well if you want a report I'll have to find something to write up on it."  The threats from officers are more and more common.  The officers have no incentives to issue "good or postive" paperwork.   They are rewarded for the citations they issue,  aka the revinue they bring their agency!!!  The goverment, FMCSA, and law enforcement only want negative results. And in so only looking for the negative its easy to find. 

jet1968
jet1968

Other then an obvious problem with equipment the DOT should be inspecting trucks on a next in line basis. Where is that ACLU bunch? They should be all over this for blatant discrimination

jet1968
jet1968

Another thing is other then California most scale houses won't do an inspection if a driver goes into a scalehouse asking for one.

jfitz58
jfitz58

Good reports don't mean anything anymore, has no barring on your CSA score. The agency says it does but cannot provide the proof. I have not experienced my drivers going through without reports but that would substantiate what I have encountered about clean inspections.

S Howsare
S Howsare

one thing i have not been hearing anybody talking about is all the inspection that dot is doing and not reporting, i have trucks going thur the scales all the time that are getting stopped for log book inspestions if they don't fine anything wrong they send them on thru without a inspection report.

John Lindsay
John Lindsay

 @S Howsare We to have the same problem trooper or officer does a level 3 no violations and they (trooper officer will not write an inspection just tells them they are good to go.. We give our drivers $200.00 for a clean level 1 and $100.00 for clean level 2 and 3. this action robs our drivers of extra money and robs us of a clean report.

McLaughlinS
McLaughlinS

 @S Howsare

 Yes....I am seeing the same issue with inspections and no exams report showing a good report.

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