Seeing value in CVSA

Our nation began as a loose federation of nearly sovereign states, which agreed in 1787 to give up much – but not all – of that power in adopting the U.S. Constitution. The history of trucking regulation shows that states retained far more sovereignty than most people think.

Truckers who ran coast-to-coast in the early days of the Interstate Highway System found how loose the federation was as they experienced 48 different sets of enforcement standards. Then came deregulation, which helped to unify rules governing size, weight and overall length. But that only began to solve the problem of uneven standards. Given our federal system, it would have been difficult for the Department of Transportation to dictate national roadside inspection standards. The answer to this problem was the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

CVSA grew out of the Western States Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which formed in 1980 with just seven members. The goal was to enhance commercial vehicle safety by pooling and conserving resources, by creating more consistent efforts from state-to-state and by simplifying and refining the inspection procedure.

Focusing on vehicle and driver requirements most often identified as causing or contributing to accidents, the organization created the Critical Item Truck and Bus Inspection Procedure, now called the North American Standard Inspection Procedure. Member jurisdictions signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to voluntarily adopt the standard procedure and to recognize each other’s application of it. State agencies were willing to give up their individual standards because they would have an active role in determining what the standards would be.

Today, CVSA operates much like a government when it comes to inspection procedures. Officers are elected by the membership, which now consists of all the jurisdictions in North America, and, like Congress, the organization has committees. CVSA’s structure even looks “federal.” Each of five regions has a president, and past and present presidents constitute an executive committee that manages its overall activity.

CVSA also acts as a clearinghouse for expert information related to vehicle safety. Trucking and bus company officials and the truck manufacturing community participate as associate members, helping to bring relevant information – such as what is a known safe limit on brake stroke – into the forum. Industry representatives serve on all the working committees and form the industry advisory committee.

Active industry participation is vital to CVSA’s success. Only by hearing real-world concerns and frustrations can the motor carrier enforcement community understand when changes are needed. And that’s where you come in. At CVSA spring workshops and annual meetings, less than 20 percent of the attendees are from trucking companies, says Vu Nguyen, the group’s marketing director. Most of the carrier officials that do attend represent the largest trucking companies.

More industry involvement by trucking companies – especially by the great numbers of smaller carriers – would greatly help CVSA to learn what goes wrong at roadside inspections and fix the things that can drive you and your drivers crazy. For information on how to join, go to and click on Membership. Join up and get involved!

John Baxter is senior associate editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail