GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. -- Industry groups weighed in on the effect that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety rating program will have on small businesses during a hearing held by the U.S House Committee on Small Business yesterday.
The hearing, titled “Is FMCSA’s CSA Program Driving Small Businesses Off the Road?”, addressed CSA’s problems of accuracy and equality as identified by a number of small businesses in the long-haul industry.
Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) acknowledged the contribution of small businesses to the trucking industry and the importance of identifying and correcting major gaps in the safety rating system.
“These flaws call into question not only the ability of the CSA to achieve its primary goal – to identify unsafe actors that cause highway accidents – but also whether, in too many instances, the new system is identifying safe operators as unsafe,” he said. “Of particular concern to the committee are the significant adverse consequences that the inaccurate safety scores may have on trucking companies, 97% of which are small businesses.”
“Overall, it’s a backwards system that rewards poor safety performance and penalizes those who are the safest,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice-president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “Most of trucking is made up of small businesses so this system, if it continues on this path, will put many of them out of business and make highways less safe.”
Economist Michael Belzer, Ph.D., gave testimony about a particularly dramatic fatal crash involving a motor carrier that the system kept putting back on the road despite numerous safety violations prior to the accident. Using this example, he explained how the mathematics of the CSA system is not having the intended effect of improved highway safety.
“Preventable crashes like this will happen again, regardless of how many times we rework the algorithms of CSA or scrap it and replace the entire program,” said Belzer. “In short, CSA tries to address safety problems we cannot remedy until we begin to address trucking’s systemic problems.”
Daniel Miranda, an owner of a small company with three trucks from California, testified at the hearing about his own experience with CSA and how it almost put him out of business. Even after taking steps to correct his safety scores, he was still faced with a poor rating.
“I asked FMCSA what to do to improve my CSA score and they told me I needed more ‘clean’ inspections, and so I did that very thing. However, my score reflected the exact opposite,” he said. “That is a terrible message to send to a small-business owner, that the survival of one’s business is beholden to a computer system that is clearly out of touch with reality.”
Testimony heard by the committee went on to describe how the system has a serious lack of due process or objective oversight, giving roadside law enforcement all of the control over disputes to citations or warnings.
“Any challenge by a small-business trucker reported to FMCSA might simply end up back in the hands of the original law enforcement agency that issued the citation, making them judge and jury,” said Spencer. “Even if you win in a local court, the violation still remains in CSA’s database and has a negative effect on the overall score.”