The catch is that once shippers and brokers employ CSA data to screen truckers, they’re open to the very liability claims they’re hoping to avoid, explained Henry Seaton during a Transplace Shipper Symposium panel discussing the impact of government regulations on transportation capacity.
“Once you start meddling and using this data, God forbid some carrier you use has an accident. The first thing you’re going to be asked is, ‘did you use the scores in your credentialing?’” Seaton said. “And if the carrier exceeds its ‘limbo bars’ [a BASIC threshold], then you can’t get that data away from the jury. It’s a whole lot better to say the federal government said the carrier had a satisfactory safety rating.”
Seaton presented the shippers with many of the arguments that he took to federal court late last year in an attempt to keep CSA from becoming public: The data should be for the internal use of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and by making CSA scores public the agency was creating a new fitness standard.
“We believe FMCSA was trying to transfer its own duty to credential carriers to the shipper,” he said.
While the court did not block the release of CSA scores, FMCSA did settle with the trucking groups Seaton represents. The agency agreed to change the way scores were presented, doing away with the orange ALERT tags and clarifying that the public “should not draw conclusions about a carrier’s overall safety condition simply based on the data displayed in this system.”
Shippers and brokers, however, have continued to debate the risks of ‘vicarious liability,’ or being held financially responsible for a trucker’s accident. And, as Seaton pointed out, when 57 percent of the carriers who have a score show deficiencies under CSA methodology, trucks could be hard to be find — at least for shippers who don’t understand the program.
And how were shippers supposed to interpret the data, anyway? Could a shipper hire a carrier that’s over the threshold in one BASIC, but not two? If the threshold is 65 percent, would 64 percent have been acceptable?
“From month to month, you cannot predict which carrier will be over one of these thresholds,” Seaton said.
He noted that many of the carriers he represents have 50 or fewer trucks, are often key employers in small towns — and their CSA scores "fluctuate wildly"
So why, with trucking safer than ever, would the DOT go to the new system?
“Because Congress told the agency they needed to be able to reach out and touch every one of the 483,000 carriers it controls,” Seaton continued. “Guess what: The program was originally named Comprehensive Safety Analysis — they took the name ‘comprehensive’ out.”
Simply, it only measured 97,000 carriers, Seaton said. The other 400,000 — small companies, often running log trucks and dump trucks — “kill people, but they’re not measured.”
And the CSA focus on for-hire carriers with 10 or more trucks “hits the industry where it lives” because those are the carriers that generate enough data to develop a score.The vast majority of carriers’ CSA report cards show "insufficient data"
Seaton characterized the carrier measurement system as a “tournament of safety,” with each round removing half of the carriers, until only a handful remain.
And, like “Dancing with the Stars,” it “doesn’t matter how well you dance, somebody’s going home,” Seaton said. “And, gentlemen, what do you think your rates are going to be?”
Seaton also criticized the peer-group methodology and “the state enforcement anomaly,” which skews the unsafe driving scores of carriers who operate in probablecause states — states where trucks can’t be inspected unless they are pulled over for a possible violation. He pointed to a national carrier who received 22 times the number of speeding violations in Michigan as it did in Texas.
Though Seaton represents smaller carriers, some of the largest carriers have similar concerns.
“We didn’t really understand, when the scores came out, how we could look the way we did,” said Knight Transportation CEO Kevin Knight. “There’s no rhyme or reason.”
Carriers design safety programs to prevent losses, Knight explained, adding that his company is one of the best among its peers when ranked by fewest accidents with injury — but is “no better than average” when measured by CSA.
Similarly, the competitor with the lowest driver fatigue score has the highest injury accident rate, Knight said.
Knight was critical of a system that does Not account for important variables, citing specifically an “aggressive” FMCSA area office that has audited Knight seven times more often than other truckload carriers of a comparable size. Additionally, 75 percent of Knight’s violations are in just four states.
Knight also noted the additional scrutiny faced by a publicly traded company: An analyst’s misinterpretation of CSA data can hurt shareholders.
“There are all kinds of things that create an imperfect situation. The problem is, when the public sees information produced by the federal government, the public believes it’s authentic,” Knight said. “But I have seen nothing more flawed. All we have wanted at Knight is to know the rules, and we’ll do the best job we can competing within those rules.” Transplace, which does qualify carriers for its customers, has reviewed CSA — but continues to “let the government tell us whether they are safe or not,” says Kyle Alexander, Transplace director for strategic carrier management.
The trucking panel was organized to “educate these shippers that taking on that responsibility from the government is not your role,” he explained.
“I think shippers want to do something because their attorneys are telling them they have to come up with a program. They have to take responsibility for picking their carriers.
They have to be responsible for monitoring how their carriers are performing — all of these things,” Alexander said. “You have so many attorneys in the shipping community that are paranoid about not doing anything that they do the wrong thing.” Alexander also said he had not seen a correlation between CSA scores and carrier service performance.
“But we are very careful about the carriers that we select,” he said. “The truckers that we engage are doing the right things.
They may have a problem with a BASIC, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unsafe.” But, a carrier can have a good CSA score and be safe.
Marshfield, Wis.-based Rehol based Transport, an event sponsor, has some of the best scores in the driver-related BASICs among the nation’s largest truckload carriers.
“It’s more a compliance issue versus safety, and I think there’s a somewhat of a difference,” agrees John Spiros, vice-president for safety and claims management.“Still, it’s one of those things that we ingrain into all of our people. Safety is a cornerstone value at Roehl. And we look at it as a personal value, so that’s probably what sets us apart.”
From the compliance perspective, it’s a matter of education, reinforcement and monitoring, he said in an interview, crediting both the drivers and the fleet managers for staying on top of the regulatory requirements.
"When you get here you right away that we just don’t talk the talk — we walk it," he said noting the "Roehl way " focuses on “protective driving” rather than “defensive driving.”
“People can see that from us, from the outside looking in,” he said, an advantage both in attracting personnel and customers.
"With CSA it is a paradigm shifting within trucking, from the standpoint of not just the carriers — it moves over to the shippers and consignees. 'who's is going to moving our goods and what's the record?" With five BASICs out there, you’re under the microscope all the time.”
The problem, Seaton concluded, is the view through the CSA lens does not provide the true safety picture.
“It’s time to go to the federal government and say that we support safety, and we want an objective standard that’s fair and accurate, and does the job that the people of the U.S. expect,” Seaton said.