CSA to get major overhaul

by James Menzies

WASHINGTON, D.C.  — Big changes are coming to the U.S. Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety regime.

CSA was introduced in 2010 to evaluate a carrier’s likelihood of being involved in a future crash, by assigning points for roadside violations. It relies upon seven BASIC categories and flags carriers who’ve received a sufficiently high score in any one of those BASICs.

But the program had its shortcomings. Major revisions were made in 2015, and Congress demanded the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) work with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) think tank to find further ways to improve the program. Recommendations from the NAS are being implemented, and soon a completely new CSA program will be rolled out. (No date has been announced for the revisions).

The new program will look radically different than today’s CSA, Steve Bryan, executive vice-president of Samba Safety, explained during a recent webinar.

“We’re going to be asking a very different question with the new CSA,” he said. “In the past, the question that was asked was how likely you as a motor carrier are to experience future crashes. That was really the concept behind CSA…throw that out the window. That is no longer the mission of the CSA platform. The new system is designed and intended to identify a deficient safety culture in a motor carrier in an attempt to answer the question: How safe are you?”

Bryan, whose firm provides carriers with CSA scorecards to measure their performance, said the change should benefit the industry. Samba Safety has built new software to reflect the changes and will soon offer customers an opportunity to preview how they score using the new methodology.

The new program will use the science of item response theory (IRT) to determine whether or not carriers have a good safety culture.

“It’s a time-tested model used in all kinds of other areas such as education, health care, psychology and other places. The IRT model is designed to answer what the statisticians call psychometric questions, like: How happy are you? How depressed are you? How optimistic are you? How intelligent are you? Questions you would think would be difficult to quantify, that’s what IRT does,” Bryan explained. “It’s trying to evaluate the safety culture that exists at each individual motor carrier.”

Roadside enforcement methods won’t change. Enforcement agencies will continue to carry out inspections and will lay charges for the same 945 violations on the books today, which will be now categorized by group. The severity and time weights previously assigned under CSA will be eliminated and replaced with IRT.

“Everybody who focused the last eight or so years on managing things by CSA points will find that is no longer the lever you pull,” said Bryan.

The CSA BASIC measure disappears and there will no longer be a BASIC percentile score assigned. The yellow alert symbol assigned to carriers will disappear. The seven BASIC categories, however, will remain.

“We still end up with seven scores, they’re just not percentiles,” Bryan said. The big difference is the FMCSA will rely on IRT science to evaluate a carrier’s safety culture.

The new system should eliminate the state by state disparity that was seen using the current system, Bryan explained.

“This model does a really good job of greatly reducing that lopsidedness based on state enforcement,” he said, noting speeding violations are heavily targeted in Indiana while Texas enforcement focuses on maintenance.

“The IRT machine goes to work. It’s very complex science. It runs on IRT-specific software. The days of computing CSA in spreadsheets has come to a crashing end,” said Bryan.

Overall, Bryan feels the new CSA system will work much better for carriers. He compared it to a safety culture fingerprint that a carrier leaves through its roadside inspections. It will continue to draw data from two years of inspections.

“We find a lot to agree with in this new methodology,” he said. “We can report, out of the gate, we really like a lot of the direction this is taking us and the idea it is computing this safety culture score, how safe are you?”

Bryan admitted, however, there will be challenges out of the gate and not every carrier will agree on how it’s rated.

“There are going to be a lot of questions, cases where they believe they are unfairly scored,” said Bryan. His advice to carriers is to “get out in front of this now. Start to get educated and understand new ways of managing the scores. It’s a very different kind of score.”

Samba Safety plans to have preview capabilities available in early November, so that customers can determine how they’ll be rated using the new methodology.

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