The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new enforcement program, Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010, got its first airing on Capitol Hill yesterday, with the agency's chief, Anne Ferro, explaining and defending the program while industry interests expressed general support and specific concerns.
One of the issues brought up at the hearing by the trucking industry was crash accountability. (Photo by Ohio State Highway Patrol)
One of the issues brought up at the hearing by the trucking industry was crash accountability. (Photo by Ohio State Highway Patrol)

No new ground was broken at the hearing by the House Highways and Transit Subcommittee. Chairman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., supports the CSA 2010 effort, calling it "an evolutionary change for the better," but at the same time acknowledged concerns in the trucking and enforcement communities about details such as timing, data quality and funding.

One of DeFazio's top concerns is the agency's plan to roll out the program this fall, before it receives the complete analysis of the testing phase of CSA 2010 that has been conducted in a number of pilot states. That analysis, which is being prepared by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, is due in December. The program had been scheduled for launch in July but the agency recently pushed the start date back until November.

Ferro explained that the agency believes that through the pilot test in nine states it has enough information to justify getting the program under way in November. The testing process has produced data that validates this approach, she said.

"We have been able to use these findings to verify the process," she said. "We have strong confidence in the system and the validity of the system, but are still working on fine tuning."

DeFazio followed up with the observation that 41 states are not fully plugged into the system yet and will face implementation challenges. "I'm not certain this is a realistic timeline," he said.

Ferro replied that the fundamental process the agency and the states use to enforce FMCSA rules is not changing. What's new is how the data will be used, and the agency has been making progress in improving the quality of its data.

That point was seconded by Steve Keppler, interim executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which represents the enforcement community. "Ninety five to 100 percent of the data is accurate," he told DeFazio. The data-gathering system has been improved through cooperative effort between FMCSA and state safety enforcement agencies, he said.

Trucking's Concern

Another issue that has been a sticking point for trucking interests was raised by Keith Klein, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Transport Corporation of America, who spoke on behalf of American Trucking Associations.

Klein showed a dramatic video clip of a tractor-trailer going over a cement median wall and overturning into the oncoming lane of traffic - a horrific accident at high speed. At first it appeared that the truck was at fault but a closer look, he explained, shows that the truck is being forced out of the lane by an automobile.

Under FMCSA's current CSA 2010 system, this accident would enter the system without recognition that it was not the carrier's fault. ATA has been pressing the agency to come up with a way to recognize the difference between preventable and non-preventable accidents in its performance measurement system.

Ferro repeated the agency's longstanding assertion that crash data, irrespective of fault, are a legitimate indicator of safety performance in the future. But at the same time, she said, the agency recognizes the problem of crash accountability and will analyze a carrier's data for fault if the carrier's safety fitness rating comes into question.

In response to a question from Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., Klein said that 26 percent of TCA's accidents last year were preventable.

Funding Issues

DeFazio also expressed concern about whether FMCSA has the funding to implement the new program. The agency has requested money for 50 additional people in its 2011 budget, which may or may not be approved, but as Keppler of CVSA pointed out, the state enforcement agencies will inevitably incur costs that the FMCSA budget will not cover.

Ferro said the agency has been looking for more money in its federal grants under the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program to help with these costs.

Look for more coverage of CSA 2010, including fleets' experience with reviewing their safety data on the FMCSA website and in the next issue of HDT.