Of square pegs and safety

FMCSA needs to admit the Crash Indicator Basic just doesn’t work

It has been almost a year since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced its plan to postpone the incorporation of accident preventability into its CSA scores, but I haven’t really been keeping track. Actually, I lied. Writing this column rewards my sense of organization (my boss will doubt that sense) because I get to write about the progress, or lack thereof, of important issues that affect the trucking industry. Thus, I keep track of these issues as part of my daily routine.

Seriously, I wrote in this very column last year about the agency postponement and write in this month’s column about the agency’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) attempt to investigate this matter more thoroughly.

The committee will certainly try to make heads or tails of this issue as many have stated that police accident reports are not reliable enough to determine who was at fault in any specific accident. This can then lead one to question, yet again, how a motor carrier can be penalized in the CSA safety measurement system for an accident that may or may not have been their fault. This issue continues to be the age-old conundrum that has always plagued an FMCSA safety measurement program, especially since SafeStat had the same problems. I may be dating myself a little bit here, but I remember an old high school computer teacher use the “garbage in, garbage out” or “GIGO theory.” The theory was that if the data used to develop a program was bad, then the data that comes out will be meaningless.

Continuing down memory lane, many will remember the SafeStat arguments that no two police reports were the same, especially when completed by two different officers in two entirely different states. How could one possibly create a statistical norm by using something so inherently subjective? That theory seems to ring true with CSA now, doesn’t it? What if MCSAC says that certain issues with CSA will never be resolved? Does that in turn render it obsolete?

Have we fallen for the lipstick-on-a-pig scenario?

I think I may be putting it on a bit thick here, but anyone who is reading this column can certainly attest to the fact that CSA has changed the scope of the industry and how we all look at safety. Have the day-to-day aspects of every carrier safety representative changed since CSA has been introduced? The short answer is “yes,” and it may surprise you that it has changed the way we do all of this without ever changing a law. That’s right. No laws were created in developing CSA; the agency just repackaged and rated what was already there.

Obviously, the MCSAC has a huge test before it in trying to determine that a square peg can’t fit into a round hole. Determining preventability is a must when trying to measure the safety prowess of carriers hauling our nation’s goods. In a perfect world, this task becomes easy to accomplish; in our world, not so much. As evidenced by the presentation before the MCSAC regarding the reliability of police reports, CSA should never be deemed a perfect entity, and the agency must be willing to cut bait on a Crash Indicator Basic that doesn’t accurately portray a carrier’s crashes.

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