CSA needs to be fixed: US GAO

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The US Government General Accountability Office wants changes to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program. And it wants them now.

In a report entitled Federal Motor Carrier Safety: Modifying the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program Would Improve the Ability to Identify High Risk Carriers, the GAO “recommends that FMCSA revise the Safety Measurement System (SMS) methodology to better account for limitations in drawing comparisons of safety performance information across carriers. In addition, determination of a carrier’s fitness to operate should account for limitations in available performance information.”

In particular, the GAO identified two distinct challenges the FMCSA faces:

“First, for SMS to be effective in identifying carriers more likely to crash, the violations that FMCSA uses to calculate SMS scores should have a strong predictive relationship with crashes. However, based on GAO’s analysis of available information, most regulations used to calculate SMS scores are not violated often enough to strongly associate them with crash risk for individual carriers.”

“Second, most carriers lack sufficient safety performance data to ensure that FMCSA can reliably compare them with other carriers. To produce an SMS score, FMCSA calculates violation rates for each carrier and then compares these rates to other carriers. Most carriers operate few vehicles and are inspected infrequently, providing insufficient information to produce reliable SMS scores. FMCSA acknowledges that violation rates are less precise for carriers with little information, but its methods do not fully address this limitation. For example, FMCSA requires a minimum level of information for a carrier to receive an SMS score; however, this requirement is not strong enough to produce sufficiently reliable scores. As a result, GAO found that FMCSA identified many carriers as high risk that were not later involved in a crash, potentially causing FMCSA to miss opportunities to intervene with carriers that were involved in crashes.”

Trucking organizations and groups have expressed their agreement with the GAO’s conclusions, including the American Trucking Associations (ATA).

“The GAO’s review of FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program was comprehensive, thoughtful and balanced,” said ATA president and CEO Bill Graves. “While ATA has long supported CSA’s objectives, we can’t help but agree with GAO’s findings that the scores produced by the program don’t present an accurate or precise assessment of the safety of many carriers.”

In a statement, ATA noted the GAO’s conclusion about the FMCSA’s lack of data being problematic if used to identify carriers posing potential crash risks.

“According to GAO’s analysis, of those with sufficient data, only 13 violations consistently had some association with crash risk and only two ‘had sufficient data to consistently establish a substantial and statistically reliable relationship with crash risk across all (of their) tests.'”

Those figures caused Dave Osiecki, ATA executive vice-president and chief of national advocacy to demand, “Given GAO’s findings, FMCSA should remove all carriers’ scores from public view.

“Since scores are so often unreliable, third parties are prone to making erroneous judgments based on inaccurate data, an inequity that can only be solved in the near term by removing the scores from public view.”

He also said that based on the data limitations, the FMCSA shouldn’t be making determinations about carrier safety fitness.

“It would clearly be improper for FMCSA to proceed with its plan to base carrier safety fitness determinations on data from the system, until the problems identified by GAO have been rectified,” Osiecki said.

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