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December 17, 2012 7:30 AM, EST
Despite Recent Changes to CSA Program, Wide Range of Industry Concerns Remain
By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Dec. 17 print edition of Transport Topics.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — If there was ever any doubt that the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program is rattling the freight industry, a recent all-day meeting of industry stakeholders here made it crystal clear that truckers, shippers, brokers and nonprofit groups alike still have concerns with the program.

Despite a consensus that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new safety monitoring program is a step in the right direction, truckers said they remain concerned that the scoring data is not always an accurate predictor of crash risk.

Shippers and brokers say they are grappling with how to use CSA data to help them determine which carriers are the safest to haul their freight.

And, public-interest nonprofits have taken issue with the reliability of police accident reports and data from roadside inspections being forwarded to FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System — the data ultimately used to assign the safety scores for carriers and drivers.

Those issues, and others, took front and center at a sometimes contentious Dec. 5 meeting of a specially appointed CSA subcommittee of FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee.

Calling CSA a “work in progress,” FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro has tasked the subcommittee with helping the agency to smooth some of CSA’s wrinkles.

“One of the things that has become clear is that it’s all  about the data,” said the subcommittee’s chairman, David Parker.

Parker, who asked the subcommittee to send him a list of its top CSA concerns in time for the group’s next meeting in February, said on some issues they need to act quickly.

Indeed, roadside inspection and crash data are the cornerstone of how FMCSA rates carrier safety performance. In the near future, CSA will replace the current SafeStat system, which uses a compliance safety audit alone to determine if a carrier is fit to operate.

As early as mid-2013, FMCSA is expected to issue a new proposed CSA safety fitness determination rule that will be the sole yardstick for determining if a carrier should retain or lose its operating authority.

That’s why truckers and shippers said the agency needs to be sure the data are an accurate measurement of a carrier’s safety.

Some of the challenges raised by researchers who presented their past CSA studies at the Dec. 5 meeting and industry stakeholders on the subcommittee included:

• Truckers took issue with the fact that, so far, only about 200,000 of the 500,000-plus active carriers have had enough roadside inspections to register a percentile score on at least one of CSA’s seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, or BASICs.

How does FMCSA know if those carriers “flying below the radar” are safe, asked subcommittee member Robert Petrancosta, vice president of safety for Con-way Freight Inc.

• Carriers said their safety profiles include a list of all reportable crashes, but do not include information on whether the carrier was at fault or could have prevented the crash.

• Shippers and brokers have liability concerns because they fear that using CSA data to determine the safety of a carrier could make them vulnerable in personal injury court cases.

“We’re not qualified to evaluate the CSA data,” Tom Sanderson, CEO of Transplace, a third-party logistics firm, told the committee during its public comment session.

• Reporting of crash and roadside inspection data by the states is uneven, said Daniel Blower, a researcher with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Nonetheless, Blower told the subcommittee, police accident reports are the only “practical” way to determine fault.

“If they’re not accurate, then we’re all in trouble,” Blower said.

• A recent American Transportation Research Institute study of 471,000 motor carriers’ CSA data found that percentile scores in two of five categories are “defective” in predicting crash risk.

A Wells Fargo Securities study earlier this year of 4,600 motor carriers found no relationship between carriers’ CSA scores and crash risk, said Anthony Gallo, managing director of transportation and logistics research for the firm.

“Our concern is we don’t want to put the wrong carriers out of business,” Gallo told the subcommittee.

• Nonprofit groups are concerned that police accident reports are not a reliable sole source of determining crash accountability, said Stephen Owings, president of Road Safe America.

FMCSA expects to have a better feel on the topic in July, when it completes its research into the reliability of police reports and other possible ways of determining crash fault.