August 14, 2012 2:00 PM, EDT

CSA Doesn’t Accurately Reflect Safety, Fleets Tell FMCSA in New Comments

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Aug. 13 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

Several trucking fleets said that the government’s safety scoring methodology does not accurately assess safety performance.

In comments to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, YRC Worldwide Inc. said that its concerns about the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program are amplified by the fact shippers are increasingly relying on the system.

“The impact of the [CSA] safety measurement system cannot be underestimated,” Terry Budimlija, YRC Freight’s safety director, wrote in July 30 comments. “Shippers are increasingly scrutinizing the records of their carriers.”

Shippers fear that plaintiffs’ attorneys will use the CSA safety ratings to pursue multi-million-dollar vicarious liability lawsuits, YRC said.

The company’s comments were in response to FMCSA’s proposal to alter the CSA program, including creating a hazardous materials Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category, transferring cargo-related violations to the vehicle maintenance BASIC and also study how it could assign fault for truck-related crashes.

FMCSA said it is reviewing all comments and expects to finalize CSA changes this month.

Landstar System said CSA’s “flawed data algorithm is not correlated to crashes.”

“There is no proof that a high BASIC under the current methodology is linked to crashes,” wrote Jeannie Gordon, vice president of compliance for Landstar Transportation Logistics. “Some carriers with high BASIC scores have low crash scores,” she wrote.

FedEx Corp. said it is concerned that accidents a carrier could not prevent were still listed on safety profiles.

“Crashes where the driver was not at fault impact the motor carrier’s score the same as crashes where the driver was at fault,” wrote James Ferguson, FedEx’s corporate vice president. “As a result, a safe motor carrier could have a high crash indicator score as a result of the misfortune of being involved in non-preventable crashes.”

Patrick Larch, president of United Van Lines LLC and Mayflower Transit LLC, said that his moving companies have “exemplary crash rates and crash indicator rankings,” but are consistently measured above the agency’s intervention threshold in the BASICs for unsafe driving, fatigued driving and driver fitness.

“This glaring disparity disproves the FMCSA’s theory that carriers ranked above BASIC thresholds have a higher-than-average crash rate and creates legitimate doubts about the validity of BASICs as a measure to predict highway crashes and carrier safety,” Larch wrote.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association called on the FMCSA to “reform” the CSA program by ensuring the consistency and accuracy of inspection and accident reports.

“Until then, it should immediately suspend the program so that it no longer damages the reputations and livelihoods of good, safe motor carriers and good, safe drivers,” wrote James Johnston, OOIDA president.

However, in joint comments, interest groups including Road Safe America and Parents Against Tired Truckers, urged FMCSA to “resist any challenges to remove, limit, or subjectively classify violation or crash data that would result in diminishing the program’s effectiveness.”

The groups said that the agency cannot rely on police accident reports to determine “non-preventability.”

“A police investigation looks for violations of traffic laws and there is no section in the standard police accident report to address or spur an investigation into the question of ‘preventability,’ ” they said.

American Trucking Associations also pointed out some problems with the CSA data methodology, but said “by far, the most beneficial improvement FMCSA can make is to develop a process for evaluating crash accountability” (8-6, p. 46).