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Using guardrails can promote safer driving practices

March 18, 2021
Trucking fleets and their drivers know the guardrails of their business – both the physical barriers on the road and the federal regulations in the books. Still, questions arise. Find answers on how guardrails can keep drivers safe on the road.

As a highway patrol officer, I had the opportunity to talk to a driver who took a mountain curve a bit too fast and scraped a tire against a guardrail. I told him, “The guardrails are there for your safety. But you have to do the driving.” 

The guardrails — the traffic laws I was enforcing, as well as the physical structures along the highway — exist to keep all highway users safe. But the safe operation of the vehicle, I told the driver, is a matter of personal responsibility. 

Trucking fleets and their drivers know the guardrails of their business — both the physical barriers on the road and the federal regulations in the books. Most people in the trucking industry take responsibility for a safe outcome on the road very personally. Still, questions arise about some trucking guardrails. 

Specifically, motor carriers want to know how the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program works. Those questions include why CSA safety scores fluctuated during the COVID-19 pandemic, and where a fleet manager can get guidance on building a bullet-proof and pandemic-proof safety program? Here is a very brief explanation. 

“BASICs” stand for the seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories used by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to calculate CSA scores. It compares the safety records of similar motor carriers and prioritizes them for inspections and compliance reviews. 

It pays for carriers to do well on BASICs. That’s because, with good BASICs scores, a fleet may qualify for electronic bypass systems, like PrePass, and save time and money by not having to stop at every weigh station. More important, fleets will operate in a measurably safer manner – and safety is everyone’s goal. 

Within each BASIC, FMCSA compares fleets to similarly situated fleets and calls these comparison groupings “Safety Event Groups.” The basis for comparison is key. The agency bases four of the BASICs – Hours of Service Compliance, Hazardous Materials Compliance, Vehicle Maintenance, and Driver Fitness – the Safety Event Groups on several inspections. The other three – Controlled Substances & Alcohol, Unsafe Driving, and Crash Indicator – focus on those inspections where violations were uncovered when composing their Safety Event Groups. 

During the pandemic, however, the number of vehicle inspections fluctuated dramatically because COVID-19 limited the number of available enforcement officers. Fleet mileage also varied. As a result, from month to month, some carriers found themselves in different Safety Event Groups in each BASIC and compared to an entirely separate set of fleets. 

CSA scores, in an oversimplification, result from the number of CSA points in the last 24 months (violations, weighted by how recent and how severe) divided by the number of relevant inspections. FMCSA then compares that calculation to other fleets in each BASIC’s Safety Event Group. So, with the fluctuating number of inspections affecting those Safety Event Groups, a motor carrier’s CSA scores may change, even as the fleet’s underlying safety performance remains steady or improves. 

What to do? Try as they might, fleet managers cannot control COVID-19 beyond their own personnel. But they can get back to the BASICs. A solid safety culture will withstand the impact of COVID-19 and lead to improved CSA scores now and in the future. PrePass offers a detailed guide to the BASICs, laying out the responsibilities and steps each member of a carrier’s team must take to achieve that goal. Read the PrePass guide to the BASICs here and keep your operations within the guardrails. 

Steve Vaughn is the vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass service. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

About the Author

Steve Vaughn | Senior Vice President of Field Operations

Steve Vaughn is senior vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass and electronic toll-payment and management services. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

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