The Compliance, Safety & Accountability (CSA) program allows the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to use improved data to identify high-risk fleets and drivers and to apply a wider range of interventions to correct high-risk behavior. However, many fleet managers continue to be concerned that CSA counts non-preventable accidents as part of a fleet’s safety record. Currently, a fleet’s score in the CSA safety monitoring system is based on all fleet-involved crashes, including those that the company’s driver did not cause and could not reasonably have prevented. By including non-preventable accidents in the calculation of a fleet’s CSA scores, which are available to the public and its customers, they create an erroneous image that the fleet is unsafe. In addition, the CSA scoring criteria is contrary to accepted industry standards and, in the long run, will undermine the validity of the program in the eyes of covered fleets.
CSA Safety Scoring is Flawed
Although many fleet managers believe CSA scoring will be effective in reducing the number of truck accidents, many say the system is flawed because it does not distinguish between preventable and non-preventable accidents. They point out that, when the driver is not the responsible party or contributing factor in a collision, it is not possible to modify driving behavior and alter results in the future. Furthermore, critics say CSA needs to account for differences in a fleet’s area of operation and total number of miles driven. For example, fleet operations in the urbanized Northeast represent a greater risk of accidents than those in the rural Midwest.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) has called for the FMCSA to establish a process to remove accidents from a covered fleet’s records where it was evident that the fleet was not to blame. The ATA argues that it is inappropriate for FMCSA to use these types of crashes to prioritize fleets for future intervention, especially when it was not responsible for the crash.
“About 90 percent of crashes are the result of driver error or unsafe driver behaviors, and only about 10 percent are attributed to vehicle factors,” said ATA Vice Chairman Phil Byrd, who is also president and CEO of Bulldog Hiway Express, an intermodal carrier based in South Carolina operating more than 150 trucks and employing more than 200 drivers.
Byrd has called on the enforcement group to do more to address the role of passenger vehicles in causing fatal crashes. “Passenger vehicle drivers are principally responsible for about 70 percent of fatal car-truck crashes,” Byrd added. “We must increase our emphasis on the unsafe behavior of those operating around trucks both through enforcement and education. Changing the unsafe behaviors that cause the majority of truck-involved fatal crashes must play a greater role in enforcement programs if we are to achieve the safety outcomes we all want.”
Room for Improvement
A growing number of fleets contend that CSA is in need of substantial improvement. The CSA scoring system must better identify the least safe fleets so that it can efficiently prioritize its enforcement resources. Also, if the FMCSA hopes to drive change by encouraging third parties to make safety-based business decisions on CSA data, it has to ensure that scores are accurate and reliable indicators of future crash risk.
In addition to focusing on driver behavior, the ATA advocates that the government must continue to address the behavior of other motorists operating around trucks. Approximately 80 percent of fatal truck crashes involve another vehicle, usually a passenger vehicle. A report released by the ATA cited numerous studies showing that the drivers of passenger vehicles are principally responsible for approximately 70 percent of fatal car-truck crashes. In addition, in 85 percent of fatal head-on collisions between a commercial truck and a car, the car crossed the center median into the truck’s lane of traffic. Similarly, in 80 percent of rear-end collisions involving a commercial truck and a car resulting in a fatality, the passenger vehicle rear-ended the truck. More than one-third of all traffic fatalities result from crashes involving a driver who was impaired by alcohol. However, in only 2 percent of fatal truck crashes was the truck driver alcohol-impaired.
A Strong Predictor of Future Risk
A person’s driving record is a strong predictor of future accident risk. For this reason, most fleets refuse to hire applicants who have been convicted of multiple moving violations. Also, CDL regulations prohibit individuals convicted of egregious moving violations from driving a commercial truck. However, the standard for driving a car is much lower. As the ATA points out, the overwhelming majority of people who drive passenger vehicles would never be allowed to drive a commercial truck.
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