Panel: After one year, CSA remains a work in progress

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While data-related issues still dog the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Safety Compliance Accountability enforcement mechanism after one year, trucking executives participating in a panel discussion say they appreciate the agency’s efforts while acknowledging they believe more work is needed.

Jeff Davis of Fleet Safety Services, Arizona Trucking Associations President Karen Rasmussen and Brett Sant, vice president of safety and risk management for Knight Transportation, participated in a “CSA: One Year Later” panel discussion on Tuesday, Nov. 8, at the CCJ Fall Symposium, being held at the Montelucia Resort & Spa in Phoenix.

Davis said the theory behind CSA was that safer event compliance would result in safer behavior and less crashes, while noncompliance would result in riskier behavior and more crashes. “Time will tell us if this theory works or not,” he said.

Under CSA, safety ratings are supposed to refresh every 30 days for all companies: The previous SAFER system under SafeStat only reached 2 percent of companies and was lengthy and graded administratively, while the new method uses roadside performance. The driver safety fitness rating has been on the backburner but is coming back through the upcoming highway bill. “We could literally be looking at a ranking of every single driver out there,” he said.

Motor carriers with deficient basics now are having insurance issues, Davis said, and the Inspection Selection System number – which combines past and current safety performance history – has been recalibrated. “This will determine the number of inspections and probably violations you receive in the future,” he said. “The system is set up to look at those who violate. This is totally new in our industry. We’ve never had to deal with this.”

Under SAFER, companies could pay a fine and move on. “Now, every critical and acute violation in the system becomes a monitored basic for 12 months, period,” said Davis. Companies based in states for CSA’s pilot program are familiar with this, and “it’s just now getting to other states,” Davis said.

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The biggest violation is logbook form and manner, while fatigued driving ranks second, followed by the driver not being in possession of a medical certificate, a driver not speaking English and hours-of-service violations. The top equipment-related violation is lighting. Of the most predominant violations, only 25 percent led to a truck being placed out of service; most are minor, but these still carry weight within the CSA framework.

How can fleets control CSA scores? “It comes down to literally controlling the driver’s behavior and performance,” Davis said. “If you want to keep the drivers that you have, you’re going to have to constantly monitor their scores.” A third of all violations relate to speeding, while another third are related to ISS numbers and most of the rest are observable defects, such as lighting, conspicuity tape and failure to use a safety belt, said panelists, who questioned if nailing carriers for medical certificates and lighting is truly improving highway safety.

“Our industry knows more about this issue than the regulators do,” said Rasmussen. “The inspectors are really just coming up to speed. Data is key.” Most enforcement activities eventually will be transmitted wirelessly for cost efficiency. “It’s the new era,” she said.

Rasmussen said Arizona’s new DataQ appeals process involves an appeals board created last January that meets monthly, and not all appeals are accepted; about 50 percent are denied.

Sant said that while CSA is a step in the right direction, there’s still work to be done. While he agrees with FMCSA’s objectives to reach more carriers, increase driver accountability and improve safety, he also cited several concerns:
• Visibility: CSA’s Safety Measurement System isn’t a reliable predictor of crashes. He also voiced concerns about the impending Safety Fitness Determination rulemaking, with the risk of that information being misunderstood by the public, customers, claimants and law enforcement;
• Driver accountability is a worthy goal, but carriers remain limited in their ability to improve driver accountability. Many drivers under the gun will shift to carriers that aren’t as scrutinized, leaving the carrier he just left holding the “bad grade” bag. “Is that really safer or fair?” Sant asked; and
• FMCSA’s compliance focus and peer comparison concepts are laudable, but Sant said there’s little direct safety benefit. The compliance focus may be misguided due to data flaws since there’s no baseline of acceptable performance, which leads to floating standards. Meanwhile, true peer comparisons are difficult due to differences among carrier size, markets and equipment.

“We have to account for the disparity in enforcement in different areas,” said Sant, pointed out how Indiana and other nearby states far and away are citing carriers more often. “We need to account for disparity within a safety event group.”