There's little doubt among many industry stakeholders that the data and rankings in the Compliance, Safety and Accountability program, or CSA, can lead some to think that a carrier is unsafe when its operation is actually sound. For example, carriers may receive a high score – which is a bad rating – every time they have a crash even if it's not their driver's fault.
Carriers are reluctant to discuss the issue publicly for fear of spotlighting scores that they consider misleading. Only a handful are willing to talk about how they've been able to finesse the matter with insurance companies and shippers.
"I have a phenomenal safety record, according to my insurance company," says Jim Burg of James Burg Trucking Company in Warren, MI. "For the last seven years, I have been rated as 'best in class.' I have 17 crashes that the company has been involved with. Two of them were our fault, and they were minor fender benders. The other 15 were not our fault. I can't stop people from backing into me. I can't stop people from sideswiping me. We even got hit by a car that was fleeing the Detroit Police Department. Yet," Burg adds, "the crashes that weren't our fault are counted equally as if they were our fault."
He says, "When you look at accountability and a program that's designed to change behavior, this is contrary to what we believe to be common sense." When CSA was first proposed, Burg thought it was a good idea but has since changed his mind because of the misinterpretation of crash data as well as some maintenance violations that appear to him as giving unfair weight to certain infractions over others.
Burg can't point to a specific instance in which his CSA score has hurt his company's standing with shippers and insurance firms, because he has been able to talk person-to-person with them, offer his side of the story and explain the shortcomings of CSA data.
Do shippers care? "That depends upon the shipper. I had one shipper who wouldn't give us business until they did a tour of our facility. These people certainly care about CSA and not just the numbers. They ask what we do to keep our numbers in check. It's the policy and procedure that should equal the good results, I tell them. They ask about my crash data and I have to go into my schpiel about why it's not fair. At the same time, I'm saying, 'But I really fit into these other categories,' and they say, 'Well, yeah, but your competitors are telling us the same stories on this, HOS, and vehicle maintenance,' so what's right and what's wrong? CSA is not a solid base to say what's good and what's bad."
Another person who spends time explaining the true meaning of CSA data is Dianna Whitby, Risk Manager at H&M Bay Inc. in Federalsburg, MD. "You have drivers who have A-rated insurance for years, and you have insurance companies who are now facing renewals, not based on the guy's driving record and not based on the claim history, but on CSA scores. Where a carrier might have had an A-rated company, now all of a sudden they've got to move to a B-rated company. We're losing carriers because shippers are saying that we can only use A-rated carriers, carriers who have A-rated insurance. But the other thing they're saying is that we can't use carriers who have high BASIC scores. One very large company told us that we had to report the BASIC score to them every 90 days, and if we used a carrier that had high scores, we could lose the contract. We negotiated that out, but this is really becoming a problem because of the perception that CSA scores are safety ratings or indicative of future incidents. I'm sure it impacts every 3PL in the country. I don't care how many disclaimers they put on the contracts, at the end of the day they're looking at this and saying, 'Oh, you can't load him. He's got a high score in vehicle maintenance.' But when you drill down, maybe the problem is that he had lights out. It's not that his brakes are out of alignment. It's something minor."
CSA data unfairly hurts smaller carriers, says Whitby. "The majority of the carriers we use are owner-operators, and they might have, at best, three trucks. Because they don't have a great number of inspections, the inspections they do have produce a greater impact on their final score."
Another issue is liability lawsuits which are bolstered partly by lawyers emphasizing a carrier's CSA rating. "Obviously, the shipper doesn't want us to load a carrier [with a high score] for fear of a liability lawsuit. They are asking us to put in the contract that we will indemnify them in the event of vicarious liability lawsuits. The perception of CSA is that this is a safety rating and you and I both know that it's not a safety rating. It's basically a percentage based on violations of people and their peer group."
Whitby concludes: "I had a guy call me the other day. He has hauled for us for several years. He said, 'Miss Dianna, I can't get that insurance anymore...' I know the driver has never had an accident, so I pulled up his CSA score and said: 'Ask them if they're basing their decision on CSA scores.' He said, 'I know that's what they based it on. That's exactly what my agent told me, and I can't get an A-rated insurance carrier.' It's unfortunate that this perception exists. It's really going to drive a lot of carriers out of business, especially a lot of the small guys."