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CSA - Fleet Compliance Nightmare?

Both large and small carriers agree that the CSA rating system is flawed.  Increasingly shippers and brokers are indicating that they also cannot use the rating system to effectively qualify carriers. So, who wins in this system, other than the administrators of the program, the lawyers paid to defend them from upset carriers, and carriers lucky enough to avoid a negative rating (so far.....)?

It appears groups representing small and large trucking interests have finally found something to agree on: Both dislike a federal program intended to target enforcement to companies most likely to cause an accident.

In the groups’ cross hairs is the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. Administered by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, CSA gathers data and uses it to predict a carrier’s future risk of crashes. Based on the data, carriers are assigned a safety risk score that can be used by consumers, insurers and anyone who might want to hire a trucking or motor coach company.

CSA 2010 - fleet compliance

William Bronrott, deputy administrator for the FMCSA, testified recently before the House Small Business Committee that “we know that CSA is working,” citing statistics from 2011 showing that roadside inspection violations for trucks and buses decreased by 8 percent and driver violations by 12 percent — the largest drop in those rates in a decade.

Bronrott said the CSA program allows the agency to “reap these safety benefits with less interruption to a carrier’s business” and that the CSA program has been implemented and is working without placing any additional regulatory burdens on businesses.

But the American Trucking Associations and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association say the CSA data and metrics are flawed and as a result can unfairly penalize good companies. Most frequently cited is a CSA data point that scores crashes against a company, even if it wasn’t at fault.

OOIDA is particularly upset with the program, saying its cost and job effects on small outfits are acute. During a recent hearing before the House Small Business Committee, Daniel Miranda, CEO of a small trucking company in California, testified that CSA is well intentioned but flawed.

He said FMCSA encourages shippers and brokers to use carriers that have been inspected versus those that haven’t and that “the shipping community feels that they will be liable if they don’t use carriers with positive CSA ratings.”

But Miranda, testifying on behalf of OOIDA, said typically a carrier has a positive rating only after it has undergone “a large number of clean inspections,” and that for small carriers “just a few minor violations can send your score skyrocketing, making you untouchable.”

Anne Ferro, FMCSA’s administrator, told trucking executives gathered Monday morning in Park City, Utah, that though CSA has “tremendous benefits,” it’s “not perfect.”

“It is a very, very good and effective tool for identifying carriers that present a high crash risk,” Ferro said, according to prepared remarks provided to POLITICO.

And she defended FMCSA’s reputation more generally against the criticism that the agency is unresponsive to industry concerns, saying that’s been her “biggest disappointment” recently.

She reassured the executives that FMCSA takes criticisms seriously but also said that “we are never going to be able to move as fast as you, or I, want to make necessary changes. We have a responsibility to ensure changes are thoroughly checked out.”

For businesses looking to hire a trucking company, using the program’s ranking system to choose a carrier with a better rating is a matter of liability. Jeffrey Tucker, CEO of Tucker Company Worldwide Inc., testified that because carriers’ safety scores are a matter of public record, picking one with a higher score — meaning, a worse rating — instead of another available company could expose his business to a lawsuit.

“Good carriers will be hurt by shippers and brokers refusing to use them because their scores may seem high. Good brokers and shippers will be sued because they used a carrier with a high score,” he said, adding that the scores are “relational scores to trigger audits” and that they should not be made public.

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