Around and Around We Go, CSA, SFD

by Wally Parke

There seems to be a never-ending merry-go-round of CSA (Compliance Safety and Accountability) information and stories, mostly negative, in the trade magazines. This subject is getting tossed about to the point where folks in the industry are just plain getting worn out on the whole thing. CSA faced intense scrutiny at its inception as being a basically unworkable program with many flawed components, and in so many ways that has proven to be so say its detractors.

Last December Congress gave the CSA SMS (Safety Management System) percentiles and BASIC (Behavioral and Analysis Safety Improvement Categories) scores a vote of no confidence in the FAST Act (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation). They were removed from public view on the SMS website. The reason for the vote of no confidence is that the criteria used to arrive at the scores assigned monthly to carriers from roadside inspections is so inconsistently applied from state to state and inspector to inspector. One trucking company may operate in a state with low inspection rates while another company is operating in a state with high inspection rates. The claim made by many industry stakeholders is that there is no way there will be a fair application of CSA and the resulting scores in that scenario. States will also have different areas they key on – one state may have speeding as their go to violation to pull over trucks, even at 1-5 mph over. Another state may give reasonable leeway for top speed. And the one-size fits all enforcement conundrum that the industry has railed against for years has certainly been in play with CSA. CSA scores have proven to be very harmful for smaller carriers as one bad inspection can skewer their score, making them appear “unsafe”, when that is not the case.

So after Congress dealt a “blow” to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the as declared deeply flawed CSA, FMCSA responded with a proposal using the same flawed roadside inspection information under the moniker of a Safety Fitness Determination or SFD. The SFD would determine a carrier to “Fit” or “Unfit”. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) time for comment ended on May 23rd but those still wanting to comment can respond to comments already made in the docket until June 23rd.

So what criteria would be used for FMCSA’s newly proposed rating system, the SFD, to replace the current ratings of Satisfactory, Conditional and Unsatisfactory? The very same flawed information that is now being used under CSA SMS, is the argument being made by some in the industry. They say if the criteria is not reliable to be used now, as Congress declared, how then it can be used to determine a carriers rating in the SFD is implausible. Also included in the SFD would be the results of carrier investigations and crash reports. And FMCSA has not yet come up with a solution to determine what crashes are preventable or non-preventable on the part of the carrier. Calls have gone out from industry stakeholders to suspend the rulemaking until the use of unreliable scoring as addressed by Congress in December and resulting reforms are in place.

In April FMCSA summarily dismissed concerns voiced by the industry, stating the FAST Act did not limit their ability to move forward with the rule. But in its Department of Transportation (DOT) funding package, the House Appropriations Committee put in language that would block the SFD rule. And the House and Senate have differing views of industry regulations.

So where does this lead to? More discussion, more angst, more aggravation. Are we getting off the CSA merry-go-round anytime soon? No, just strap yourself in, because it does not appear so.