In December 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) launched a new trucking safety program called Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) Program. At the heart of this program was the Safety Measurement System (SMS) designed to analyze violations from inspections and crash data. The idea was to be able to identify carriers with a pattern of unsafe practices in order to intervene to correct safety violations before they resulted in catastrophic injuries or death.
The SMS assessment included seven safety improvement categories called behavior analysis and safety improvement categories (BASIC) and they cover the following:
• Unsafe driving – dangerous or careless operation of vehicle includes unsafe driving practices like speeding, improper lane changes and/or failure to wear seat belt.
• Crash indicators – history of crash involvement based on state reported crashes (not publicly available).
• Hours of Service compliance – incidents of vehicle operation by drivers who are ill, fatigued, or in non-compliance with hours of service regulations including driver log violations.
• Vehicle maintenance – mechanical defects and failure to make required repairs as well as improper load securing.
• Controlled substance/alcohol – impaired driving through the use of alcohol, illegal drugs and misuse of over the counter and prescriptive drugs.
• Hazardous material compliance – unsafe or incorrect handling of hazardous materials including leaking containers, improper placarding, and missing shipping papers (not publicly available).
• Driver fitness – vehicles operated by drivers who are unfit due to lack of training, experience, or medical conditions.
A key element of the program was that companies exhibiting high risk behavior would be notified and given an opportunity to correct safety violations before they caused tragedies on the road. The FMCSA and state law enforcement were able to utilize a variety of tools including warning letters, roadside inspections, and compliance reviews.
The benefit of public disclosures of the SMS/CSA was raising the awareness of trucking safety, causing motor carriers to devote more attention and resources to safety initiatives due to accountability that comes with having the carrier data publicly displayed.
About 70 million users logged onto the Safersys website each year, creating transparency that encouraged commercial motor vehicle safety, created incentives for motor carriers to improve their safety performance and allowed other companies and members of the public to make informed decisions based on all the available data.
Ever since the FMCSA has instituted this program, the trucking industry has been complaining about the system. More articulate criticisms of the SMS and CSA has raised questions about the accuracy of the data and scoring algorithms in the FMCSA’s methodology. The groups that were critical of the system focused on arguments against the CSA methodology. FMCSA compared the crash rates of carriers with sufficient and insufficient data in the system to produce a score. When carriers did not keep the scores above the threshold levels, the FMCSA would intervene in one or more methods. Since introducing the use of the system, the violations rates have dropped by 14 percent.
In August of 2015, 10 trade associations representing companies that owned or operated commercial trucks and busses jointly asked the U.S. Department of Transportaiton (DOT) to remove the SMS data from public view, citing reports highly critical of the SMS methodology in identifying high-risk carriers. The trucking industry pulled out all the stops in lobbying key members of Congress to insert language in a highway funding bill that was passed in December of 2015.
As of Dec. 4, 2015, the FMCSA removed from public view all carrier percentiles and ranking in the seven SMS BASIC categories. It required the FMCSA and the Government Accountability Office to identify the program’s faults and develop a plan to fix them and to implement those fixes before the system can go live again.
Congress has directed FMCSA to study the issues like carrier crash risks and the correlation of the CSA scores, CSA ranking and methodology, and accuracy of the CSA data. The bill requires the report to be produced within 18 months. Until FMCSA can implement a so-called “corrective action plan” the CSA program will not be public. It’s incumbent upon the task force studying this issue to get to work soon so that the “corrective action plan” can be issued based upon good and valid data and hopefully the program will be reinstated by 2018.
Sources: FMCSA website; Big Road blog and Ken Shigley blog
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