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June 17, 2013 5:00 AM, EDT
FMCSA to Seek CSA Changes to Make Scoring Clearer
By Timothy Cama, Staff Reporter

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

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it would propose changes to the public face of its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program later this year in an attempt to make clearer that the rankings are not necessarily safety scores.

“We recognize the presentation can be made clearer so visitors can better understand what the scores mean — and what they don’t mean,” FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne told Transport Topics.

The changes will not affect how FMCSA calculates scores or uses CSA to prioritize its enforcement actions, DeBruyne said.

Instead, FMCSA wants to make changes to CSA’s Safety Measurement System to show users that percentile scores reflect carriers’ compliance with only certain regulations.

SMS data reflect how a company’s violations and audits compare with similar companies, expressed as percentile rankings in categories known as Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories. They are not official ratings, which

can be issued only after FMCSA auditors evaluate a carrier’s operations.

The SMS changes will make that distinction clearer, DeBruyne said.

The disclosure left trucking industry representatives disappointed that FMCSA is not taking action on other CSA issues, such as hiding all BASIC rankings from the public unless the scores can be correlated with crash risk.

“It’s a good first step,” said Rob Abbott, vice president of safety policy at American Trucking Associations. “Regardless of how they display it, the intent of the program is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities. Ultimately, the most effective way to do that

is to identify fleets that are more likely to have crashes.”

However, some BASICs have an inverse relationship to crash risk, Abbott said, citing a 2012 study by the American Transportation Research Institute.

“Intuitively, that tells us that posting that data publicly . . . will achieve the inverse of the intent.”

Abbott is a member of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee’s subcommittee on CSA, which is scheduled to meet this week in Arlington, Va. The majority of that subcommittee has recommended that FMCSA hide BASIC scores.

“The only circumstance under which the subcommittee said they should remain in public view is if removing them is not possible. So we’d be interested to know: Why isn’t it possible?” Abbott said.

Bob Petrancosta, vice president of safety at less-than-truckload carrier Con-way Freight, was suspicious of FMCSA’s actions.

“Any time you put a disclaimer on something, you’re providing an explanation that what you’re seeing is not always what you’re getting. If you have to put a disclaimer on scores because they’re not telling the right story, why not fix the problem, so that they do tell the right story?” he said.

Shippers, brokers and the public will use CSA scores to judge carriers’ safety, Petrancosta said.

“And if those scores aren’t a true reflection of a carrier’s safety performance, I have a problem with that,” he said.

Steve Owings, co-founder of Road Safe America, said that it is important to differentiate between scores that measure safety and those that measure only compliance with regulations, but both should be displayed.

“Clearly, if they’re statistically predictive of future crashes, then we don’t see any problem calling them just that,” he said.

Petrancosta and Owings also are members of the subcommittee.

DeBruyne said FMCSA also wants to make clearer that a carrier should not be considered unsafe just because the agency does not have data.

“The lack of data should not be interpreted to the detriment of the carrier,” DeBruyne said.

The agency also is considering switching how it counts violations in CSA, he said. Currently, each violation is given a numerical score for the purpose of the calculations, but FMCSA might switch to high, medium and low.

But that would not solve the problem of violation scores that are not properly weighted to correspond to crash risk, Abbott said.

Petrancosta agreed. “At the end of the day, whether you rank it through high-medium-low or numbers, you’re still weighting it. And I’m not quite sure what you get out of that change,” he said.

FMCSA will allow motor carriers to see a preview of the changes sometime this year and will provide time for comment. The preview then will be open to the public before the agency implements the final changes.

FMCSA’s latest major changes to CSA were finalized in December, after they were previewed by carriers in August. Those 11 changes centered on realigning the BASICs and increasing oversight of hazardous-materials carriers (12-10, p. 3).