Monday, August 22, 2011

Q & A re: SMS Score

Q: We are a small expediter. Over 15% of our business is with a large broker whose safety threshold is 80% for “fatigued driving”. Our current SMS score is 88. We have 11 trucks and 18 drivers. We have recently been through a DOT focused audit which we passed. Based on my knowledge of how the scoring works, though, it will be at least October before our scores drop below the enforced threshold. This 3PL is one of our top five customers. What can we do?

A: I have tried to work diligently with the broker industry to convince them that CSA 2010/SMS scores are misleading and that artificial enforcement barriers are misleading. As an expediter in the straight truck division, you are peer grouped with companies which do not log because of the 100 mile exemption and are far more likely to have high scores than most of the people in your peer group. Because SMS methodology is based upon “grading on a curve” and you are in a dissimilar peer grouping, the methodology alone disadvantages you.

Moreover, since the vast majority of the points accumulated in “unsafe driving” relate to log violations (either in form or manner or not having paper logs current), your scores are probably skewed by the fact you do not have onboard recording devices and must use paper logs.

A sophisticated 3PL should understand this. More basic, though, is the fact that SMS scores themselves have no proven relationship to safety and their use by any 3PL is, I believe, counterproductive.

We continue to try to educate shippers and 3PLs about the systemic flaws in SMS methodology. As I mentioned at the TEANA seminar which you attended, it is important that not only affected carriers but shippers and brokers as well object to adoption of this methodology and ultimately address the underlying issue which is that shippers and brokers are frightened about the vicarious liability implications of public release of SMS data. Ultimately, we must win the battle of public opinion, defeat broader use of SMS methodology by the Agency, and stop the spurious idea that shippers and brokers can somehow be liable for negligent selection of a carrier which the Agency determines is fit to operate.

The fact that you have had a focused audit and the Agency did not find anything wrong or change your safety rating, should count for something! It should be indication to the world that the methodology’s only valid use can be to direct the Agency’s attention to carriers possibly in need of further investigation – not as a safety fitness determination, or as a basis to deprive a small businessman of needed freight.

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