A CSA Fix is in the Wind

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There’s hope these days that one of the worst examples of safety legislation ever devised in the U.S. will get a makeover in the next year or so. That may be optimistic, but with a multi-year highway bill now almost through the Washington meat grinder, the Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA) program looks bound to change. One of the bill’s many aims is one that would require the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to rework its mighty flawed reporting regime.

Common sense, that oh-so-rare feature of regulatory reality, may yet prevail.

And that would be a boon to the thousands of Canadian carriers, drivers, and owner-operators who use American highways. Like their south-of-the-border counterparts, they might just see an end to what can frequently be wildly unfair safety assessments based on flawed principles and weird math.

If you don’t want to wait, and I sure wouldn’t, there’s help at hand. It comes from Vigillo LLC, a data-mining company that offers fleet subscribers a rather sophisticated CSA analytics service. It’s designed to aggregate, organize, and deliver complex carrier safety data in a scorecard format. More particularly, the help comes from a new and additional service called JUST, which will properly examine an accident submitted for review by subscriber carriers.

I’m not in the habit of endorsing specific products or services but in this case I’m going to sound like it. I’m making an exception for two reasons: one, CSA really is that bad; and two, there’s nothing else like JUST. I’m pretty confident in doing this after hearing countless bitches from fleets and drivers in recent years. And after spending the better of an hour on the phone with Vigillo CEO and founder Steve Bryan, a very down-to-earth guy. With 2000 fleets subscribing to his service, including a few hundred in Canada, there’s probably nobody who understands the legislation better, in theory or practice. In fact, Vigillo has the largest database of carrier safety data outside of the FMCSA.

JUST uses moonlighting truck-trained enforcement officers and inspectors who look at all available information, for pay, from driver photographs to police reports. They have a much wider range of evidence to work with than is possible within the rigid confines of CSA.

Two sets of expert eyes are applied to each incident, and if that first pair happens to disagree, a third inspector will be called in.

Bryan calls it “a parallel scoring system, built on the same principles as CSA, that provides a true picture” of the incident. It’s a credible third-party assessment that can be used in court or to convince customers or insurers that a lousy CSA judgment was misguided. It can also be used to support drivers. If the JUST review determines that a given accident was in fact non-preventable, Vigillo issues the fleet a Driver Certificate of ‘Non-Preventable Crash Determination’.

The FMCSA’S intentions were wholly admirable at the outset, and when CSA was launched in 2010 the trucking industry was for the most part on board, if a little nervous. Maybe a lot. But the idea itself was sound.

It was conceived with the simple goal of identifying unsafe players, aiming to use accident data and other stats to pin down both unsafe carriers and drivers and to get the bad ones off the road. The feds have never claimed it was perfect, calling it a work in progress that would be improved over time. But that hasn’t been the case in practice and over the last five years its inherent unfairness hasn’t been reduced, let alone eliminated. Worse, from what I understand, the FMCSA has grown increasingly intransigent and less willing to accept criticism.

“After five years, eight major methodology version changes, over 15 million roadside inspections and 30 million CSA violations, the fundamental flaws in CSA that unfairly score thousands of motor carriers still exist,” says Bryan.

The 800-lb gorilla in the CSA room is the patently unfair policy that in judging a given fleet’s safety performance, all accidents are lumped together. Preventable, non-preventable, it makes no difference.

“It just fundamentally doesn’t make sense,” Bryan told me.

Excerpt from the Lockwood Report. To subscribe or read past installments, follow this link.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to Trucknews.com.

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