A House hearing Wednesday on the federal CSA trucking safety initiative morphed into a debate over electronic onboard recorders, the relationship between driver pay and safety and even, briefly, whether trucking should be re-regulated.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration defended its program, but members of the House Small Business Committee peppered Deputy Administrator Bill Bronrott with questions on CSA scoring of motor carriers and other topics.
Among them were how the CSA program “weighs” violation data in its Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories scores or BASICs and why CSA doesn’t differentiate between at-fault and not-at-fault accidents when scoring carriers.
"How can you hold somebody accountable for something that is not their fault?" Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., asked Bronrott. Bronrott said the FMCSA will study crash weighting and report back to Congress and the industry next year.
Landry, co-sponsor of legislation opposing an EOBR mandate, also raised the EOBR issue several times, turning the hearing into a broader debate on FMCSA's regulatory scope. The agency plans to relaunch an EOBR rulemaking next year.
Representatives from trucking and brokerage groups, an equity research firm and a transportation economics professor well-known for his criticism of trucking deregulation agreed that CSA isn’t working, though they often agreed on little else.
The program, in its current form, “is oppressive and punitive,” said Daniel Miranda, an owner-operator who drives a truck and has two other owner-operators working for his two-year-old business, Hit ’Em Hard Transportation, in Elverta, Calif.
“CSA, though well intentioned, is filled with flaws,” said Miranda, who testified for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Just a few minor violations can send your score skyrocketing,” an effect he experienced, Miranda said.
In CSA, “the agency has created a heavy burden for American business,” said Jeff Tucker, CEO of third-party freight brokerage Tucker Worldwide in Cherry Hill, N.J. “They've given accident lawyers jet fuel for negligent hiring lawsuits.”
The hearing raised the drumbeat against the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program — or at least the way it’s currently being rolled out — another notch as the FMCSA approaches a deadline on proposed changes to CSA’s scoring system.
Comments are due July 30 on changes to CSA’s Safety Measurement System the FMCSA proposed in March. The agency also plans action on how crash data is “weighted” within the SMS this month, according to a report on TruckingInfo.com.
At the hearing, Bronrott stressed the FMCSA is still working on the SMS and a new safety fitness determination system to replace the audit-based satisfactory, conditional and unsatisfactory ratings issued under the SafeStat system.
“We know that CSA is working,” Bronrott said at the start of the hearing. “Last year truck and bus violations decreased by 8 percent and driver violations decreased 12 percent. This is the largest drop in vehicle and driver violations in a decade.”
The internal use of CSA data for enforcement is fine, said Tucker, who testified on behalf of the Transportation Intermediaries Association. It’s the unintended impact of the release of SMS data into the marketplace that troubles freight brokers.
“Brokers and shippers must second guess whether a carrier licensed by FMCSA is safe to operate,” he said. “The FMCSA has created a straw man, and forced the companies that hire carriers to chase the straw man in the name of proving safety.”
As CSA grades carriers on a curve, Tucker said it is impossible for brokers or shippers to determine on their own which carriers are safe or unsafe using BASIC scores. “There will always be a number of carrier with at least one alert,” he said.
And the vast majority of active carriers — those with operating authority, a motor carrier number and active insurance coverage — don’t have a BASIC score, or a safety fitness rating, according to Tucker Worldwide subsidiary QualifiedCarriers.
“We ask FMCSA define who the high-risk carriers are, name them in a file and send it to the public,” Tucker said, a step that could protect brokers and shippers from vicarious liability claims in negligent hiring lawsuits. “We will stop using those carriers overnight.”
(A more detailed report on issues raised at the hearing will be published in the July 23 edition of The Journal of Commerce.)