Author: [Guest] Mark Solomon, Senior Editor at DC Velocity

In December 2010, the federal government introduced a trucking safety compliance and enforcement model called CSA 2010. Standing for “Compliance, Safety, Accountability,” the program measures and helps improve the safety performance of motor carriers and drivers under seven categories that go by the acronym of BASICs, which stands for Behavior Analysis Safety Improvement Categories. The seven (7) BASICs1 include:

  • Unsafe Driving [Speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, inattention, no seatbelts]
  • Crash Indicator [Histories of crash involvement (Not Public)]
  • Hours-of-Service Compliance [Noncompliance with HOS regulations, including logbooks]
  • Vehicle Maintenance [Brakes, lights, defects, failure to make required repairs]
  • Controlled Substances/Alcohol [Use/possession of controlled substances/alcohol]
  • Hazardous Materials Compliance [Leaking containers, improper packaging and/or placarding (Not Public)]
  • Driver Fitness [Invalid license, medically unfit to operate a CMV]

Using BASIC scores and working from predictive inspection and crash metrics, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a unit of the Department of Transportation which regulates truck safety, determines what—if any—interventions should be taken against a carrier. They can range from a warning letter to unannounced inspections, fines and penalties.

No one disputes the importance of highway safety and removing the “bad actors” from the road. And it appears that tangible progress has been made. Over five fiscal years ending with fiscal 2012, FMCSA more than doubled its number of annual interventions, according to a Government Accountability Office report issued earlier this year. FMCSA reports a near 10% reduction in safety violations at roadside inspections since 2010, reflecting a safer road system through improved compliance.

Still, CSA has created a legal hornet’s nest that has buzzed since its launch. Critics maintain that flaws in the carrier-grading methodology undermine the program’s good intentions. For example, CSA scores measures a carrier’s safety fitness by benchmarking it to the performances of other carriers. However, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (U.S. GAO) report found that most truckers in the U.S. operate 20 vehicles, and that such small carriers lack sufficient safety data to ensure their performance can be reliably compared to others. In addition, FMCSA lacks the resources to inspect such a broad carrier universe with enough frequency to collect the data needed to generate accurate and thorough fitness scores, GAO said. With scarce resources, FMCSA is forced to grade “on the curve,” lumping together high-risk and low-risk and making otherwise fit carriers guilty by association, according to critics.

What’s more, FMCSA makes carrier CSA scores public on its web site, which invites shippers and property brokers to make erroneous carrier-selection judgments based on inaccurate and incomplete data, critics argued. This, in turn, exposes shippers and brokers to significant liability risk in the event of a crash-related fatality or injury should a plaintiffs' lawyer successfully argue that they failed to rely on CSA score data that showed a history of one or two safety infractions, critics said.

The near-term solution is for FMCSA to keep the driver CSA scores from public view, critics said. The long-term solution is for Congress to require that the agency, not shippers or brokers, be the final arbiter of a carrier’s fitness.

FMCSA has urged carriers to implement its “Safety Management Cycle,” a solution that systematically assesses a company’s safety management practices, identifies potential problems, and suggests improvements. Using the system, carriers can integrate safety into every aspect of its operation, which improves highway safety and may also boost a carrier’s bottom line, according to supporters of the model.

1 For more information on BASICs, visit the FMCSA website here.