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ATRI finds two CSA metrics misalign data and crash risk

Oct. 2, 2012

A new study just released by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) finds that two critical scoring measures within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) new Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program are not correctly highlighting a carrier’s crash risk.

The group analyzed the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) and crash data from a sample of 471,306 motor carriers with evidence of recent activity in the past 24 months, focusing on the five BASICs available to the general public.

ATRI said BASIC scores are positively related to crash risk via three of those metrics: Unsafe Driving, Fatigued Driving and Vehicle Maintenance. The strongest relationship centers on the Unsafe Driving data point; as the percentile scores increase, the risk of being involved in a crash also increases.

For instance, a carrier with a score of 99 is roughly 3 times more likely, on average, to be involved in a crash compared to a carrier with a score of 0.

However, ATRI found a negative relationship between the other two BASICs and crash involvement – Driver Fitness and Controlled Substances and Alcohol – meaning that higher and thus “worse” scores are actually associated with lower crash risks; meaning the likelihood of being involved in a crash decreases as scores approach 100.

"Obviously an inverse relationship between driver fitness and crash risk is more than problematic for the trucking industry,” Dan Murray, VP-research for ATRI, told Fleet Owner.

“Essentially the data says the harder you work to improve driver fitness, the more dangerous you become,” he explained. “Unfortunately, we can't drill any deeper into causation because the formulas and weightings have not been made publicly available.”

That’s worrisome because additional CSA research ATRI is working on shows that the impact of FMCSA’s new safety measurement regimen goes far beyond safety on the roadside.

“Shippers, insurers, and trial lawyers are all watching CSA closely,” Murray emphasized. “Its impact will include financial and legal consequences among others. No one in trucking wants to suffer unwarranted harm from a system that is not working perfectly.”

“The conclusions in ATRI’s study support what many motor carriers have found to be true in their operations – namely, that scores in the CSA Driver Fitness BASIC do not bear a statistical correlation to crash risk,” added Scott Mugno, VP-safety for FedEx Ground. “However, the industry has always supported CSA where it does reduce crash risk and ATRI’s study validates that there are portions of CSA that are working as intended.”

Indeed, ATRI’s Murray is confident that FMCSA will address this problem. "FMCSA has shown a willingness to fix the problems with CSA, and I'm confident that when they thoroughly review our research, they will move quickly on a satisfactory fix to this and other CSA issues,” he said. 

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