Safety & Compliance

GAO Highlights Shortcomings in CSA Program

February 04, 2014

By Oliver Patton

SHARING TOOLS        | Print Subscribe

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA safety enforcement program has been successful in some respects but needs improvements, says the Government Accountability Office.

CSA, which stands for Compliance, Safety, Accountability, has helped the agency expand its reach, among other benefits, but because of data shortcomings it is not as strong a predictor of crash risk as it could be, the watchdog agency said.

The agency should revise the Safety Measurement System that is a core CSA component, and it should take the limitations of the system into account when it installs the pending safety fitness regime, GAO said.

GAO undertook the analysis at the request of Senators concerned about the effectiveness of the system.

American Trucking Associations praised the review, noting that GAO’s findings echo concerns it has expressed for some time.

The review is “comprehensive, thoughtful and balanced,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves in a statement.

“While ATA has long supported CSA’s objectives, we can’t help but agree with GAO’s findings that the scores produced by the program don’t represent an accurate or precise assessment of the safety of many carriers.”

The association’s conclusion is that FMCSA should remove carriers’ CSA safety scores from public view.

“Since scores are so often unreliable, third parties are prone to making erroneous judgments based on inaccurate data, an inequity that can only be solved in the near term by removing the scores from public view,” said Dave Osiecki, ATA executive vice president and chief of national advocacy.

GAO did not look at that question, however.

“Due to ongoing litigation related to CSA and the publication of SMS scores, we did not assess the potential effects or tradeoffs resulting from the display or any public use of these scores,” GAO said in its report.

SMS Shortcomings

GAO said the safety agency faces two challenges in assessing safety risk with CSA.

First, the regulations the agency uses to calculate safety scores are not violated often enough to strongly associate them with crash risk for individual carriers.

And second, there is not enough data to reliably compare most carriers’ performance with their peers.

“Most carriers operate few vehicles and are inspected infrequently, providing insufficient information to produce reliable SMS scores,” GAO said.

One result is that FMCSA has identified many carriers as high risk that have not been involved in a crash, which may cause the agency to miss opportunities to intervene with carriers that were involved in crashes.

GAO’s proposed solution is for the safety agency to score only the carriers that have more information. GAO noted, however, that this approach comes with a trade-off. Fewer carriers would have SMS scores, but those scores would be more reliable predictors of risk.

In revising its SMS methodology, the agency should identify the limitations caused by the quantity of data and by variability in the carrier population, GAO said. It also should identify limitations in the precision and reliability of the data.

GAO noted that the safety agency is preparing a rule for determining safety fitness using a carrier’s safety data. The agency should consider the limitations in that data while it drafts that rule, GAO said.

FMCSA had “significant and substantive disagreements” with GAO during the drafting of the report, which led to a rewrite in which GAO made it clear it is recommending that the agency do a formal analysis of its SMS methodology rather than prescribing changes.


  1. 1. Mr. Truck [ February 04, 2014 @ 08:55AM ]

    The ideologues at the FMCSA meet the cold math of the GAO.

    Anthony Foxx, are you listening?

  2. 2. Fitz [ February 04, 2014 @ 09:21AM ]

    CSA perfect? no, but I like it as a tool for the drivers. Certainly like the PSP for hiring purposes. CSA allows me to use the program as a training tool and allows me to set goals. And its free. even better. Will this help us avoid crashes, maybe, maybe not. But if nothing else the drivers have it on their minds. That alone may save some crashes. Although I would like the agency to set straight about crashes and get quicker on making improvements.

  3. 3. lastgoodusername [ February 04, 2014 @ 09:30AM ]

    I'm not sure i would agree with this article. I believe the system is operating exactly as it was designed. It has been extremely costly, confusing to the general public,overly burdensome , especially to small interest, and lacking a common sense approach to the true problem is should have been addressing which is highway safety. A typical one size fits all Federal solution looking for a problem.

  4. 4. Steve [ February 07, 2014 @ 01:25PM ]

    The problem with the CSA system is that it could take more than 9 good inspections, to over come just one bad one.

    For instance, a driver does his pretrip and all looks good. He takes off out of the truck stop in a brightly lit city. He gets pulled over 3 miles down the road with a headlight out. That headlight out on an inspection will put 9 points on a carriers record for the next three years. If anything else is found in the inspection, more points are awarded. This according to an FMCSA instructor in August 2013 at the truck show seminar.

    The same truck replaces the headlight, and at the next scale he gets pulled in for a random. This time he passes the inspection, but only gets one good point for the good inspection. So the carrier still has a bad score that can affect that carriers revenue.

    Lights can go out at any time, usually not during a pretrip or any other inspection, but while the truck is moving down the road.

    No matter what is found on a bad inspection, the same amount points should be awarded as one receives on a good inspection. In addition, points should not be awarded on a "warning," as the carrier cannot contest those in the dataque.

  5. 5. laurie hover [ February 08, 2014 @ 04:18AM ]

    I got one of those great warnings for a pin on the tandem slider that had not popped out all the way. Just slid the tandem and it was icy and cold in SD and the cold frequently causes these trailers tandem pins to freeze and stick. It was not enough to ticket me or put me out of service but I got the warning but weather needs to be taken into consideration. CDS does not factor that into their stats.

  6. 6. Bruce Cate [ February 08, 2014 @ 10:15AM ]

    We have no statistics established for the risk of a Non Commercial vehicle causing an accident with a Commercial Vehicle, which is the case in 80% or better of crashes. Driver awareness, and driver skills are the only tools to offset this risk. I agree that a proper braking and steering system also comes into play but is only as good as the skills of the driver. So many cmpanies take their rooky drivers fresh out of driving school and send them out to drive in snow and Ice immediately instead of keeping them to the south till they get a few miles under their belt.


Comment On This Story

Comment: (Maximum 2000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that every comment is moderated.


We offer e-newsletters that deliver targeted news and information for the entire fleet industry.


ELDs and Telematics

sponsored by
sponsor logo

Scott Sutarik from Geotab will answer your questions and challenges

View All

Sleeper Cab Power

Steve Carlson from Xantrex will answer your questions and challenges

View All