ATA Insists on CSA Changes

FMCSA Is Now ‘Unresponsive,’ Federation Says
By Howard Abramson, Editorial Director

This story appears in the May 28 print edition of Transport Topics.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Trucking’s leading advocacy group signaled growing unhappiness with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s handling of its new safety regime, and told the agency it needed to be more responsive to the industry.

After a meeting of its top leadership here last week, American Trucking Associations said the agency needs to fix issues that carriers have raised over various portions of the Compliance, Safety Accountability program, and to correct errors in its fleet safety ratings.

And unless improvements are made, the group warned that it would “explore all avenues” to get CSA modified.

ATA President Bill Graves said that after supporting the agency and its safety program through several years of planning and implementation, “recently our members have become concerned that the agency has become increasingly unresponsive, even in the face of data and logic.”

In a statement after its May 22 meeting, the group said, “ATA’s board and members said the unreliability of CSA scores, the loose or, at times, inverse connection to crash risk, as well as FMCSA’s unwillingness to frankly discuss the program’s weaknesses is very troubling and needs to be addressed.”

The group stressed that it continued to support the goals and objectives of CSA but is concerned that FMCSA is focusing on issues that are not true indicators of safety performance.

FMCSA had little official comment on ATA’s stance, other than a statement that the agency would “welcome ATA’s continued output” concerning CSA.

However, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro disputed ATA’s claims in an interview May 23 with a reporter for The Trucker newsletter, saying, “We have been very open about what we are doing and about accepting input from industry stakeholders, law enforcement and drivers.”

ATA Chairman Dan England said that, while the group continues to endorse the goals of CSA, “it is becoming increasingly clear that parts of the program are in need of serious revision, particularly before FMCSA begins using them to generate publicly available fitness scores” for carriers.

Rob Abbott, ATA’s vice president of safety, said May 25 that the group’s stance “reflects frustration on the part of our members.”

“Some things haven’t changed,” Abbott added, “including ATA’s continued support” of CSA’s goals.

He said, however, that ATA fleets are worried that the agency is now less interested in fixing parts of the new CSA regime and that the agency has made some recent changes that lower the effectiveness of the program.

In its statement, ATA said one of its primary issues concerns FMCSA’s failure to follow through on promised changes to crash accountability rules, which the industry contends penalizes fleets’ safety records for crashes their drivers had no part in causing, such as when they are legally parked (3-19, p. 1).

Ferro had told the industry that FMCSA would make changes to the crash accountability standards but later backed off after some advocacy groups complained. She has ordered a further review of the issue.

Carriers have complained that their safety records are harmed when they are cited for crashes that occur through no fault of their drivers (5-14, p. 1).

ATA said it is also concerned about FMCSA’s lack of research backing its claim that carriers that violate some parts of CSA’s provisions are more likely to be involved in crashes and about publishing carriers’ scores in those categories until that research is completed and analyzed.

England, who is also chairman of C.R. England Inc. of Salt Lake City, said “we are all concerned about safety” and said FMCSA “should do everything in its power to enforce the rules.”

But Michael Card, president of Combined Transport Inc. of Central Point, Ore., who is in line to succeed England as ATA chairman, warned, “If FMCSA continues to insist on pressing forward with the program without addressing [the] industry’s concerns, ATA will have no choice but to explore all avenues of ensuring the program is improved to actually meet its stated, and worthy, objectives.”

ATA last week raised its concerns in a letter to the House-Senate transportation bill conference committee, and Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House highways and transit subcommittee, said he plans to hold hearings on CSA (see story, p. 5).

ATA also has raised concerns with FMCSA over various aspects of CSA, as the agency works with the fledgling program.

Among those outstanding issues are how the agency oversees hazardous materials shipments, how it continues to use citations that have been dismissed against fleets’ safety ratings and the severity it attaches to some violations that the industry believes are not truly indicative of a carrier’s safety performance.

Staff reporter Timothy Cama contributed to this story from Arlington, Va.