Finding fault with the process

By delaying action on crash data, FMCSA is painting the wrong picture

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently postponed its plans to incorporate accident accountability into the crash BASIC score as part of the often-criticized CSA methodology. The delay itself certainly does not come as a surprise to most in the industry; however, the agency’s justification for deciding to halt progress on correcting CSA methodology was based on the recommendation of supposed safety advocacy groups.

Relying upon opinions from safety advocacy groups that really do not have a stake in the game seems irrational at best. In fact, a simple review of CSA and its ranking system discovers that not a single anti-industry group is rated by this program.

CSA is a motor carrier safety measurement system, so it would make sense that motor carriers and their representatives should be the ones to recommend positive changes to reflect an accurate portrayal of a carrier’s safety performance. By reviewing and actively using this data, mostly on a daily basis, the most qualified parties to recommend change are its actual users, the nation’s roughly 90,000 motor carriers in the system that have safety data attached to them.

A casual observer of any analysis system will say that inaccurate data always paints an inaccurate picture. As carriers and drivers alike continue to be portrayed as unsafe because of an assessment of accidents that are no fault of their own, it certainly calls into play the justification of actually having a crash BASIC. Granted, the score is not viewable to the public, but enforcement personnel and compliance officers are certainly privy to this information and are basing their assumptions on scores that are highly inaccurate. Two years removed from its original 2010 start date and the industry is still facing an issue that should have been remedied from the beginning.

The stories are the same for every carrier across the country. Accidents that are not the fault of drivers are being counted against them, whether they are DOTrecordable accidents that happened when the driver was not present or a rear-end collision by a passenger vehicle. Every carrier has a running tally of these accidents in their register. And the carrier is not alone when citing these examples. FMCSA’s own Large Truck Crash Causation Study cites that 72% of all crashes resulting in a fatality were not the fault of the truck driver. The problem here is that at this point in time, the only people who know this are the carrier, the driver, and the officer at the scene of the accident. The fact of the matter is that these types of accidents do not correlate with a higher future crash risk. Crash accountability continues to go unrecorded in a system that rates carriers on their safety performance, creating a measurement system that is inherently incorrect.

All along, the industry has realized that CSA is a work in progress, and the basic premise of the program is valuable to carriers as an aid in improving safety performance. However, when specific faults of the program are pointed out and even acknowledged by administrators of the program, the time for delay in fixing those errors has long passed. The industry strongly encourages FMCSA to remedy this issue in the most expedient way possible. By listening to the realities and effects of the system from its daily users, the agency can correct this flaw and paint an accurate picture of the carriers that continually strive to improve and make our roads safer.


David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to [email protected].

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