Is CSA just days away?

by James Menzies

WASHINGTON, D.C. –If all goes according to plan, and in government that’s never guaranteed, the US Federal Carrier Safety Administration’s new carrier safety measurement system CSA will be in place any day now. The program was supposed to be launched Dec. 6, but it was pushed back to “no earlier than Dec. 12” as Truck News was going to press after a lawsuit was launched by a coalition of small carrier groups including the National Association of Small Trucking Companies.

The gist of the lawsuit, Sloan Morris, director of client services with Vigillo said during a recent Webinar, was that publishing percentile rankings would result in a public branding of carriers as unsafe, which is ultimately for the FMCSA -not the public -to decide.

Lawsuit aside, the FMCSA is still forging ahead with the new safety measurement system (SMS). And when it finally goes live, five of the seven BASICs measured under CSA will be made public. The FMCSA recently said it would withhold from the public scores related to the Crash Experience and Cargo-Related BASICs, which had both been of concern to industry stakeholders.

The decision not to publicize Cargo- Related scores came just weeks ago, since it was decided certain types of trucking companies -such as flatdeck haulers -may be subjected to higher scrutiny due solely to the nature of their business and the fact their loads are more visible.

“There was a concern the BASIC (Cargo-Related) was over-representing certain industry segments,” Sloan explained. “Open deck haulers in particular were getting a lot more cargo violations, simply because if it’s easy to see, it’s easier to give violations as compared to a closed van situation… What we’re currently seeing is that if you have a significant percentage of open deck vehicles, you’re going to be higher in Cargo than everyone else and that’s not the intent of the system.”

When CSA goes live, it’s not yet clear how long the current SafeStat system will continue to operate before being completely abolished. It’s expected SafeStat ratings will remain visible for some time, at least.

“Initially FMCSA had indicated SafeStat would be taken down the day the new SMS went up,” said Annette Sandberg, former FMCSA administrator and now CEO of TransSafe Consulting, who also spoke during Vigillo’s Webinar. “However, in the last two weeks I know a number of shippers and brokers have requested to have SafeStat run in parallel for at least 60-90 days to give shippers and brokers the same opportunity that carriers had to see how the scores compare to the old SafeStat system.”

While CSA will come with new carrier rating terminology (Unfit, Marginal and Continue to Operate), those safety fitness determinations will not take effect for some time, since they still need to be approved by Congress and put to the public for comment, Sloan said. Meanwhile, it’s likely the current definitions of Satisfactory, Conditional and Unsatisfactory will continue to be used in the immediate future.

There are other language details being worked out as well. In response to concerns raised by shippers and carriers, CSA will not label carriers as “Deficient” in certain BASICS, as originally planned, but will now use the more friendly term “Alert.”

Also new will be tiered speeding penalties. For instance, travelling one to 10 mph over the limit will net just one point whereas speeding by 15 mph or more will result in 10 points. Sloan said the number of tiered speeding points assigned to Vigillo’s customers doubled from September to October, so “I’d get ready for those.”

This also means being cognizant of which states have the most aggressive speed enforcement, he pointed out, (read Ohio).

CSA will also come with a new formula for determining which trucks to inspect. Dubbed ISS 2010, carriers will fall under one of three categories as they pass the scales: inspect; optional; or no inspection required. The goal is to identify carriers with a pattern of non-compliance or with serious violations. It will also hone in on carriers that have not yet accrued sufficient data to produce a CSA score, Sloan pointed out, so Canadian fleets with limited miles in the US may be near the top of the list to get waved in.

Records of “Serious Violations” will be assigned to carriers that have screwed up royally, and must be uncovered during an investigation under CSA. Serious violations include things like failing to implement a drug and alcohol program. The Serious Violation label will stick to a carrier for a year and there are 113 such violations. They are posted at Vigillo’s Web site ( and Sloan suggests “I would strongly urge you to review that list.”

Keeping a low ISS 2010 number and staying off enforcement’s radar is extremely important under CSA in order to avoid what Sloan describes as the “vicious cycle.” He noted 60% of Vigillo customers receive at least one violation for every inspection, so naturally fewer inspections should translate to fewer violations and a more favourable CSA ranking.

“If you have an inspection, you are more likely than not to have a violation so you want to focus on reducing violations but even more so, you want to focus on reducing inspections. Because when you have an inspection, you’re playing against the house,” he said. “Once you’re sucked into a high ISS score, you’re going to continue to get more violations so you have to get out of that spiral.”

Both Sloan and Sandberg agreed that shippers and brokers are paying close attention to CSA and will use it as a valuable tool when choosing carriers to haul their freight. However, a poll of Webinar attendees showed 45% said none of their customers have asked them about CSA to date and 47% said only a few have engaged them in discussions on the topic.

Sandberg, however, who works with carriers as well as shippers and brokers, says the latter group has every reason to be interested in CSA. She pointed to the case of Schramm vs Foster in which a broker was successfully sued for US$23.7 million for continuing to use a carrier that had high SafeStat scores.

“That got the attention of plaintiff attorneys and it also got the attention of the shipper and broker community,” she said.

Now, more than ever, shippers and brokers must perform due diligence when choosing a carrier to pull their freight and with CSA scores easily-accessible, failure to do so is asking for trouble, Sandberg pointed out.

“What the courts have said, and there have been a number of cases that point to this, is they expect that in this information age where a lot of information is available on the Internet, for shippers and brokers at minimum to do a public records review,” said Sandberg.

Which begs the question, what can a carrier to do to ensure its CSA score works in its favour and not as a deal-breaker? Sandberg said the time to begin communicating with shippers is now.

“Shippers and brokers have been paying attention (to CSA) and if you’re a motor carrier, you need to engage in dialogue with your shippers and brokers,” she said. “Ask them how they plan on using the new data. If you have good data, I recommend you offer that data up and let them see you’re operating safely and that you’re a good risk and a good carrier. A number of carriers are advertising that they have good SMS scores. If you don’t have good scores but have taken steps to correct those scores, such as removing bad drivers, you may want to have that initial dialogue with your shippers and brokers on the steps you’ve taken to remediate some of the scores that may not look that good when the system goes live.”

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