Ferro Says FMCSA to Alter CSA to Address Industry Concerns

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the Oct. 25 print edition of Transport Topics.

PHOENIX — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is making several changes in its soon-to-be-implemented overhaul of truck safety standards as a result of industry comments, Administrator Anne Ferro told Transport Topics.

Ferro said at the annual meeting of American Trucking Associations here last week that FMCSA will change some of the terminology used to label fleets, put disclaimers on the data and hold back crash data when the program is implemented in December.

However, despite the desire by some fleets to delay publication of the scores, they will be posted as scheduled, Ferro said.

“We’ve had a great deal of opportunity to talk to the industry . . . about our publication of that data to a broader audience,” Ferro told TT in an Oct. 19 interview during the ATA meeting. “Number one, it will be going public in December, and we will be initiating the warning letters and phasing-in the concept of a focused compliance review where appropriate.”

But to avoid inflammatory terms, FMCSA will be “getting away from that ‘trigger language,’ so it won’t say ‘deficient’ ” on a carrier’s score, but “probably something closer to ‘threshold’, or ‘above the threshold’ or something like that,” Ferro said.

Fleets have been concerned that using the term “deficient” is too pejorative and could harm them in legal proceedings.

Also in response to industry concerns, Ferro said that while the agency considers whether it’s feasible to assign fault to the crashes in its system, “we will continue to treat the crash data as we do under SafeStat” and keep it off FMCSA’s public website.

As a result, carriers’ scores in six of the seven CSA safety categories are now scheduled to be posted.

Under CSA, the agency is sorting carrier infractions — from crashes to cargo securement violations — into seven categories, or BASICs.

In August, FMCSA changed the way some of the BASICs are calculated. Those revisions, according to Scott Randall, safety director at Hogan Transports, benefited large carriers, who generally saw improvements in their scores.

“The larger the carrier, the greater the chance they would be deficient under the old methodology,” but under the new methodology “larger carriers all saw a decrease,” he said.

Keith Klein, chief operating officer of Transport Corp. of America, said that before the changes, his company was “deficient in three of the seven basics,” but that is not the case now.

“There are still some concerns on CSA 2010, that there may be a lot of bumps in the road that we think could be avoided to some degree,” said Charles “Shorty” Whittington, president of Grammer Industries and chairman of ATA’s executive committee. “However, in a nutshell, this thing is so far down the pike that if you’re going to be a carrier, you’re going to have to learn to be a good carrier.”

Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA Inc., told TT he agreed with FMCSA’s decision to post the scores, despite his concerns about CSA.

“I don’t like the message that it is sending to the public, that we have something hidden behind this score,” he said.

However, that didn’t absolve the agency from continuing to look at the program, he said.

“I am confident that we will in time — and it needs to be sooner than later — get this right,” Williams said. “It is a critical piece that needs to be implemented and to accomplish the goals that we want to accomplish on highway safety.”

Some of the concern stems from carriers’ fear that shippers or plaintiffs attorneys may use the data from CSA either to select carriers or in lawsuits.

Former FMCSA Administrator Annette Sandberg, now a consultant and attorney with Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, said that failing to do due diligence and potentially using a carrier with a deficient or even marginal score “does not play very well” with juries, citing several multimillion-dollar suits where brokers or shippers have been found negligent for using poorly rated carriers.

As a result, Sandberg said she advises her clients to discuss the CSA issue with their carriers, and for carriers to explain that there are issues with the data.

John Hill, also a former FMCSA administrator and current consultant, said he believed the CSA scores should be publicized. But he added that if quality issues with the data persist, the scores might need to be withheld until the data problems were solved.