Thursday, August 2, 2012

Is Safety a Game or a Level Playing Field?

For approximately 30 years, motor carriers have competed for customers based on routes, rates and services.  Safety was not a game but a given.  Small businesses, largely blue collar entrepreneurs, were given a level playing field upon which to compete with giant, well established motor carriers.  That level playing field was uniform enforcement of an objective safety criteria spelled out in statute and enforced by federal regulators (first the ICC, then the FMCSA) equally on all carriers without bias or preference with respect to carrier size, domicile, or states traveled.

Deregulation freed up carriers to compete for business without undue federal or state interference provided they could meet the safety bar imposed on one and all.

After May 16th, it has become clear that the FMCSA no longer subscribes to the National Transportation Policy with respect to Congress’ stated goals to encourage competition, efficiency, and small businesses.  It has abandoned the uniform playing field of objective safety standards applicable to all and its obligation as the exclusive umpire to enforce the safety rules in accordance with the requirements of statute and regulation.  Using an unvetted and unproven percentile ranking of carriers by peer groups, it has made safety into a financially lethal game in which no objective safety fitness determination applies equally to all carriers.

Instead, it has created the “Olympic Games of Safety” the goal of which is to try to identify “the safest” motor carriers by publishing percentile rankings of carrier scores in five events monthly and effectively suggest to the shipping public that how the carriers perform in these games is an indication of whether the carrier should be used.

Using the Olympics model to reduce the number of contestants in each round might be acceptable if the ultimate goal of this new procedure was to award gold, silver and bronze medals in safety compliance events, but it is an unacceptable draconian procedure if its goal is to use percentile rankings to brand and eliminate from the market 50% of the motor carrier industry the Agency can measure regardless of its actual safety performance under objective standards.

Now that I think about it, the analogy of SMS methodology to the Olympic Games is not the most apt metaphor.  The Agency, telling the shipping public they should use SMS methodology to make carrier selections is more like a contest in the Roman Colloseum in which proficient gladiators are forced to fight for their own survival subject to the whim of a frightened public which must turn thumbs up or thumbs down after each round.

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