OOIDA says changes to CSA a 'good start,' but program still 'flawed'

By Jami Jones, Land Line managing editor | 8/24/2012

For the first time since FMCSA’s Comprehensive, Safety and Accountability enforcement program went live in December 2010, the agency announced several changes to the program in a conference call with industry media on Friday.

While the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sees the changes as a “good start,” OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer says CSA is a flawed system that continues to disproportionately affect small-business truckers.

“We’ve known it’s been a work in progress, and today’s announcement shows that the agency is listening to what truckers have been saying and taking those things into consideration,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA. “However, impatience from truckers should not be unexpected when a program has real-life consequences on professionals that know of no other way to do business but safely.”

The enforcement program, dubbed CSA, measures motor carrier compliance in a variety of categories called BASICs. Motor carrier violations from roadside inspections and information from crash reports are weighted and scored through the program’s methodology to arrive at a compliance ranking.

The rankings in the seven BASIC categories determine whether the motor carrier will face enforcement action from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the form of interventions.

The agency, which launched a preview of proposed changes in March, outlined the result of that preview and accompanying comment period in the Friday conference call.

Among the changes planned for full launch in December are:

  • The Vehicle Maintenance BASIC will include cargo and load securement violations;
  • The Cargo Securement BASIC will become a HM (hazmat) Compliance BASIC;
  • The methodology will be updated to align with current intermodal regulations;
  • Align relevant inspections with Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance inspections levels (for example, driver only inspections will not be included under the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC);
  • Clarify the definition of hazmat carriers to ensure any carrier hauling a placardable amount of hazmat will be subject to the HM Compliance BASIC’s intervention thresholds;
  • Update the definition of passenger carrier to better identify those operations; and
  • Modify the SMS display to include more specific terminology in place of “inconclusive” and “insufficient” with information reflecting the number of inspections and unranked compliance.

There are four additional changes, all of which address some of the concerns raised by OOIDA.

Currently, federal regulations allow for a 5 mph speedometer variance. However, CSA included speeding 1-5 mph as a violation weighted and scored by the program. That violation will be removed from CSA. Also, the severity weight for unspecified speeding will be lowered to a 1.

The methodology currently treats similar logbook violations and electronic on-board recorder violations differently. In December, those violations will be scored consistently.

And finally, the Fatigued Driving BASIC will be renamed HOS (hours of service) Compliance BASIC to reflect that the category measures everything from on-duty violations to paperwork violations.

Paperwork violations – commonly called form and manner violations – account for 35 percent of all violations under the soon-to-be HOS Compliance BASIC. OOIDA has been very vocal in its opposition to the inclusion of form and manner violations in the enforcement program.

FMCSA officials did not remove any of the form and manner violations from the methodology.

“One of the ways that drivers can make it very difficult to detect false log violations is by leaving off key information in the form and manner of their logs,” William Quade, Associate Administrator for Enforcement at FMCSA, told the media during the conference call when asked why form and manner violations continued to be counted in the program.

“So from our perspective, having the log in the right form and manner is part of the comprehensive program that we need in order for our law enforcement partners to be able to reliably be able to detect when violations occur or falsification may be happening.”

Spencer steadfastly disagrees with that assertion.

“How can leaving a ZIP code off of the company’s home terminal address give you any sort of indication that a driver is falsifying their logbook,” Spencer said.

“The onus is on FMCSA to show their program actually can identify carriers that really are likely to be involved in at-fault crashes as opposed to just running up numbers on the ‘alphabet soup’ of regulations they have on their books. The system operates from the premise that every trucker is the bad guy, and this is a flawed approach for creating legitimate safety statistics or improving safety.”

While the Association is still reviewing the announced changes, Spencer said they do appear to be a step in the right direction – just not far enough.

“We believe that FMCSA is still glossing over the lack of attribution of fault into the system,” Spencer said. “FMCSA is boasting that millions of people are now checking the CSA website.  It is clear the impact that this program is having on the trucking and shipping industry, and ultimately on people’s livelihoods. Therefore, it is imperative that FMCSA fix the flaws.”

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