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Trucking and CSA Reform: The $64,000 Question

Blog Commentary by David Cullen, Executive Editor

July 6, 2017

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Photo: FMCSA
Photo: FMCSA

“That’s the $64,000 question," Steve Bryan replied when I asked him whether having a supposedly pro-business administration in place will ensure reform of the Compliance, Safety, Accountability enforcement regime laid out in a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

NAS last week publicly released its congressionally mandated report that provides a road map to reforming CSA. Boiled way down, the 132-page report calls for setting CSA scores via a methodology based on a wider pool of data (including driver compensation, vehicle miles traveled by state, and other factors) that would be phased in over two years to replace the current system.

By and large, trucking lobbyists swooned over the report — not surprising given the industry has long held that the existing Safety Measurement System used to ID commercial motor vehicle carriers at high risk for future crashes is highly defective. For example, American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear said the report “confirmed much of what we have said about the program for some time. The program, while a valuable enforcement tool, has significant shortcomings that must be addressed, and we look forward to working with [Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] to strengthen the program.”

Likewise, David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, said the study “reaffirms what our industry has been saying all along, that there are inconsistencies with the Safety Measurement System. Safety-minded, forward-thinking carriers like the members of TCA should be able to stand behind their safety accomplishments, and being judged on those achievements, in an equitable manner, should be the basis of what CSA is all about.”

Now, as explained in a blog post by Avery Vise, president of compliance consultancy TransComply, FMCSA has four months — 120 days — “to submit a corrective action plan that responds to the deficiencies or opportunities identified by the report, identifies how FMCSA will address them, and estimates the cost.”

Within four months after that, according to Vise, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General must report to Congress on the extent to which the plan addresses recommendations in the NAS report as well as relevant past recommendations of the Government Accountability Office and the DOT IG itself.

The upshot, says Vise, is that “SMS alerts and relative percentiles for property carriers will continue to be withheld until the DOT IG certifies that a corrective action plan implementing the NAS and GAO recommendations has been implemented.”

And only at that time can FMCSA even consider again making CSA scores visible to the public.

All told, it will be up to eight months from now before trucking can hope to see the reforms recommended by NAS come into play. 

Steve Bryan, president and founder of Vigillo LLC, which specializes in analyzing fleet safety data, has posted a blog presenting his own analysis of the report — which he said he “distilled down to five-and-a- half pages,” including his commentary on the four key sections detailed by NAS.

“I give the NAS an ‘A’ for the report,” Bryan told me. “And I hope I can give FMCSA an ‘A’ when they respond in October” with their required action plan. “But up until now, in every case FMCSA has left things as is. We would hope, though, that now being under congressional mandate, the agency will take the report to heart. The NAS recommendations amount to a pretty major overhaul [of CSA], but it’s do-able."

That brings us back to Bryan’s rhetorical reply about when the CSA reforms might actually be implemented. “The answer [to the $64,000 question] of when this will happen,” he told me, “will come down to when a new FMCSA administrator is confirmed [by the Senate and takes charge of the agency.]”

Bryan noted that the next FMCSA chief “might coincide with a more pro-business approach and [he or she] could change the agency’s attitude from the past of not really listening to the trucking industry.” 

But don’t hold your breath. At this point, President Trump’s appointments still lag previous administrations by six weeks. That’s the slowest pace in four decades on making nominations, securing confirmations, and filling critical leadership positions.

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Author Bio

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David Cullen

Executive Editor

Executive Editor David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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