The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) initiative is still a thorn in the paw for the trucking industry. One of the reasons is that shippers have become more selective of the carriers they hire and are requesting both the publicly and non-publicly available Behavior Analysis & Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC) scores under CSA. For example, a 2012 study by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that 27.6% of shippers had terminated existing contracts with carriers based on their BASIC scores. Furthermore, 50% of shippers noted that poor BASIC scores have deterred them from entering into contracts with new customers even though FMCSA states that BASIC scores do not constitute actual safety ratings. Having shippers use BASIC scores as carrier selection criteria is potentially harmful to carriers’ business operations since ATRI found inverse relationships between collision involvement and carrier BASIC scores in the Driver Fitness and Controlled Substances/Alcohol BASICs.
CSA remains a major concern within the trucking industry as noted by its continued top or near-top ranking in ATRI’s “Top 10” critical issues research over the past three years. Of particular concern to the industry is the relationship between specific BASICs and crash risk, the lack of crash accountability, the need for more transparency in the development of the BASICs, and the severity weightings assigned to the violations.
ATRI states that more recently, attention has focused on the disparate enforcement of the number and type of violations issued across states and the potential impact this has on carrier BASIC scores. For example, Transcore Freight Solutions identified that nine of the top 10 states with the highest percentage of carrier alerts for the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC are contiguous and in the south. In another example, Vigillo analyzed 2012 violation data from the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS). Researchers at Vigillo found that at the national level, on average there were approximately 11.97 light violations for every one speeding violation. State-level comparisons reveal that in Texas, there are 321.02 light violations for every speeding violation, and in Indiana, there are 1.91 light violations for every one speeding violation. These patterns of enforcement activity present a possible issue for carriers as their BASIC scores may not be wholly reflective of their safety performance, but rather a representation of the enforcement objectives within the states in which they operate.
As stated by FMCSA, the goal of CSA is to create an efficient and effective nationwide safety initiative among its federal and state enforcement partners. This may be a difficult task since previous research conducted by ATRI suggests that uniformity is lacking in the amount and type of CSA training received by enforcement personnel. Among the study’s findings, nearly three-quarters of enforcement personnel noted a need for increased CSA training and education, with approximately one-tenth of participants never receiving any form of CSA training as of 2012.
ATRI is now investigating the correlation between CSA training (content and quantity) and test scores, as well as the relationship between CSA perceptions, knowledge and carrier “safety culture.” Additionally, the findings from the enforcement personnel knowledge test provide a foundation for future evaluation of these individuals’ knowledge of CSA and how that knowledge impacts enforcement activities.
One of the biggest frustrations for fleets remains: While they can properly maintain vehicles and train drivers to avoid CSA citations, they have no control over the variables related to law enforcement.
This column appeared in the February 2014 edition of Fleet Equipment. You can read the entire issue on your phone or tablet by downloading the Fleet Equipment app.