Trucker 665 Vigillo Sfd

CSA doomed, fitness proposal useless, data guru says

May 23, 2016
“Who calls this a success? The work that has gone into the proposal, to actually use this great, new system that goes across the whole, wide country—half-a-million motor carriers—to find a grand total of 67 unfit carriers is insane. “To move forward with this is completely a waste of time, money, and effort.” —Steve Bryan

LITTLE ROCK. CSA will never reappear. The new carrier fitness proposal won’t see the light of day. And shippers and brokers will try to rely on raw BASIC data for carrier selection—but that’s like “children playing with dynamite,” or so Vigillo CEO Steve Bryan outlined in his “big data” presentation at the 2016 Arkansas Trucking Assn. Annual Business Conference here last week.

The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) system, with a goal of identifying those carriers most at risk for accidents and targeting enforcement resources accordingly, “would be a really cool and useful application of big data,” but the program’s shortcomings are simply too fundamental to fix, Bryan explained.

Specifically, Bryan suggested the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cannot possibly meet the review and reform requirements and deadlines placed on CSA by Congress in the FAST Act.

“I wonder if FMCSA has any intention of bringing CSA back,” he said. “I think it’s an impossibly high bar to hit all of those points.”

Instead, FMCSA has attempted address some of the concerns in its proposed changes to the Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rule which, like CSA, relies heavily on carrier roadside inspection data to identify the worst carriers and declare them unfit to operate.

But Bryan—along with some trucking groups and members of Congress—questions whether the SFD truly gets away from some troublesome aspects of the data, notably the use of percentiles.

Otherwise, the FMCSA avoids the controversy over the use of non-preventable crash data by dropping the Crash Indicator BASIC from the SFD proposal.

“Their response is that they just won’t look at it,” Bryan said. “That’s not fixing anything—that’s ignoring it.”

Similarly, the SFD proposal addresses the problem of enforcement disparity between states by requiring failures in two BASICs before a carrier can be identified as “unfit.”

“Their argument is, ‘look, we understand these problems are there, but we have set these failure standards so high that if you fail them, it’s not because of the underlying problems—it’s because you just really suck,’ that’s basically what it says in the safety fitness rule,” Bryan said. “Again, they explain these away and propose to ignore them.”

And by increasing the minimum number of inspections required for a carrier to be assessed under the SFD, FMCSA has actually made the problem worse when it comes to expanding the pool of carriers who can be scored and rated.

By the numbers

Indeed, Vigillo “ran the numbers,” using the current SMS data and applying the SFD as proposed to determine “what it means to the trucking industry.”

For starters, only 51,000 carriers are eligible to be rated, compared to 98,000 trucking companies with CSA scores. That’s from a population of 1.6 million in DOT’s April 2016 database, with just over 600,000 registered for interstate commerce and regulated by FMCSA.

“CSA was bad enough,” Bryan said. “This cuts it in half.”

And of those 51,000, Vigillo’s analysis—which was submitted for formal comment on the rulemaking—showed only 178 carriers fail two BASICs at the thresholds defined in the SFD. But there’s another caveat in the SFD proposal: A carrier cannot be declared unfit if one of those failures includes violations of the English proficiency requirement.

Vigillo's Steve Bryan at the Arkansas Trucking Assn. annual meeting.

“This was pushed by Texas enforcement who said, ‘we’re writing these [violations] by the thousands down here, they don’t equate to safety and they shouldn’t be part of the SFD,’” Bryan explained. “And FMCSA agreed with them.” (According to Vigillo's anlaysis, 100% of the carriers removed due to this violation are domiciled in Mexico.)

So that leaves only 67 trucking companies that would be declared “unfit” right now, under the proposal. Vigillo also mapped where those unfit carriers are domiciled, and 25% were in Illinois—with the majority of states having none. Those carriers employ, in total, fewer than 2,000 drivers.

“Who calls this a success?” he said. “The work that has gone into the proposal, to actually use this great, new system that goes across the whole, wide country—half-a-million motor carriers—to find a grand total of 67 unfit carriers is insane.

“To move forward with this is completely a waste of time, money, and effort.”

Playing with dynamite

And while carriers might reasonably imagine a useless proposal would be a good thing, Bryan made the case that without CSA or a meaningful safety rating, anyone with an interest in a trucking company’s safety record has only the raw data in the BASICs posted on the FMCSA website—data that was removed for several weeks as the display was changed to meet the FAST Act requirement to block CSA percentiles from public view.

Essentially, while the math behind CSA’s safety event groups may be flawed, without the peer groupings the raw BASICs don’t make sense.

“What we’re hearing out there is that brokers, shippers, drivers, your bosses are all saying CSA scores are back. ‘We can just use those use those measures to compare one carrier to another,’” Bryan said. “That is children playing with dynamite. If you don’t understand the math behind the measures, they are completely incomparable.”

Vigillo is in the process of working with attorneys to come up with guidelines for making sense of the public data, he noted.

“This is my final plea to all of you: If you’re at a motor carrier and don’t have somebody at your company who really understands how to have a conversation with your customers about BASIC measures, get somebody up to speed on it,” Bryan said. “This is probably the most important thing that I’ll leave you with. If you don’t understand how to talk about the BASIC measures, they’re going to use them against you.”

About the Author

Kevin Jones | Editor

Kevin has served as editor-in-chief of Trailer/Body Builders magazine since 2017—just the third editor in the magazine’s 60 years. He is also editorial director for Endeavor Business Media’s Commercial Vehicle group, which includes FleetOwner, Bulk Transporter, Refrigerated Transporter, American Trucker, and Fleet Maintenance magazines and websites.

Working from Little Rock, Kevin has covered trucking and manufacturing for 15 years. His writing and commentary about the trucking industry and, previously, business and government, has been recognized with numerous state, regional, and national journalism awards.

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