Changes coming to CSA

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 8/25/2011

It’s been said all along that Comprehensive Safety Accountability, the electronic tracking and enforcement tool used by FMCSA, was a work in progress. And, true to the agency’s word, changes are coming.

Whether you are a motor carrier or a driver, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is moving forward with some modifications to the CSA program.

Motor carriers
FMCSA has ranked motor carrier safety performance with a “Carrier Safety Rating” for years under the SafeStat system that CSA is in the process of replacing. Motor carriers would receive these ratings – and still currently do – only after a compliance review.

The lengthy, manpower-intensive process has resulted in less than 4 percent of the motor carriers in the United States ever being inspected and receiving a safety rating.

One of the key components of CSA from the start was to identify at-risk motor carriers electronically through collected data, eliminating the majority of the need to go on-site with motor carriers, except for those with the worse performance records.

Assessing the safety performance of motor carriers is done roughly on a monthly basis. Motor carriers are currently ranked in seven Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories – dubbed “BASICs” by FMCSA.

The agency is getting ready to move forward on a rulemaking that, if finalized, will allow the agency’s monthly updates to include the carrier safety rating.

So, rather than wait for the unlikely event of a compliance review, motor carriers will have a publicly distributed safety rating that will determine their ability to continue to operate.

The goal of the agency was to proceed this month on the rulemaking granting the agency authority to assess those safety ratings monthly. To date, the notice of proposed rulemaking has not been sent to the secretary of transportation for approval.

Hazmat carriers
In the Aug. 3 Safety Measurement System release, FMCSA refined the criteria that determines which motor carriers are subject to the more stringent hazardous materials intervention threshold.

The thresholds are ratings in various BASICs that determine when the agency will begin enforcement interventions – anything from warning letters to full on-site compliance reviews. Hazmat motor carriers are traditionally held to a higher standard, which in turn means they face a lower BASIC threshold to trigger the interventions.

Previously, the hazmat threshold was applied to motor carriers based solely on their registration information indicating they transported any quantity of hazmat. That meant some motor carriers that weren’t even carrying enough hazmat for a placard were facing the lower threshold. It also meant some carriers didn’t face the lower threshold.

The hazmat threshold now applies to motor carriers that transport placardable quantities of hazmat based on operational evidence. These are motor carriers that meet one of the following criteria:

  • Inspection in the past 24 months where the motor carrier was identified as carrying placardable quantity of hazmat;
  • Review or safety audit in the last 24 months where the motor carrier was identified as carrying placardable quantity of hazmat; or
  • Motor carrier has a hazmat permit.

It’s not even a secret that FMCSA wants to rank drivers in the BASICs as well. It has been a part of the plan since 2004 when CSA was announced. And the methodology is already in place.

The problem, yet again, for the agency is that current regulatory authority does not allow for the agency to rank individuals in the BASICs.

The agency’s intention became crystal clear in a February 2011 GAO report to Congress, which clearly stated, “FMCSA is seeking to gain new authority to regulate drivers through the next surface transportation reauthorization bill; if it gains this authority, the agency plans to make driver safety data public as well.”

True to the GAO report, a leaked copy of the Obama administration’s proposed highway bill hit the streets. The proposed bill included a complete section of regulatory directives targeted at drivers.

Within that section is a proposed provision addressing CSA and driver enforcement.

Detailed under the “Driver Safety Fitness Ratings” section is a plan for individual drivers to have a safety score assigned to their compliance history. While not expressly stated, it’s apparent that system would occur under Compliance Safety Accountability – or the CSA enforcement program.

The program is already set up to track driver performance for use exclusively by enforcement personnel. However, this adds the rating mechanism and gives the FMCSA the authority to disqualify drivers from driving because of poor ratings.

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