The trucking industry and other interest groups are getting more say in how the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration shapes its signature CSA safety enforcement program.

At the first meeting of a new CSA advisory panel yesterday, the agency spelled out the help it needs, calling for ideas and suggestions on how to solve such long-standing issues as public access to data, improvements in the data correction system and whether or not carriers should get credit for safety technology.

The panel is a subcommittee of the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee, a group of 19 officials from industry, the enforcement community and labor and safety advocacy groups that provides counsel to FMCSA on a variety of issues.

David Parker, senior counsel at Great West Casualty, is chairman of the committee and also will chair the CSA Subcommittee.

The shape and size of the subcommittee is not yet clear. At yesterday's meeting in Alexandria, Va., Parker said he believes shippers, brokers, equipment suppliers and others should be involved in the CSA discussions, in addition to interested members of the Advisory Committee. He expects these issues to be resolved by the time of the subcommittee's first meeting in October.

The subcommittee will have a daunting agenda. Keying off on a list presented by the agency, the MCSAC members discussed a broad range of issues they hope to cover, many of which have been in play ever since CSA got under way two years ago.

What FMCSA Wants

Bill Quade, associate administrator for enforcement at FMCSA, outlined the agency's wish list.

It wants advice on how to handle public display of CSA data and messaging, on the thresholds it has established to trigger intervention by enforcement officials, and on whether or not the safety data should take a carrier's area of operation into account.

Also on the agency's agenda: what to do about shortcomings in the DataQs system for correcting errors, particularly with respect to handling violations that have been dismissed by a court.

In addition, the agency asked how it accounts for roadside screening versus a full inspection in the database, and should carriers get credit for using safety technologies such as lane departure warning.

And, should Safety Measurement System data be segmented by the type of operation, such as truckload, less-than-truckload, private carriage, flatbed, rural or urban?

What MCSAC Wants

To this the MCSAC members added a considerable list of their own.

They want to determine if CSA is working as it is supposed to, perhaps by engaging a third party to do an analysis.

They question whether the CSA system should focus on reducing the number of crashes, or on the severity of crashes.

Committee members applauded the agency's effort to roll out CSA to the entire community, but indicated that they would look for ways to improve communications with small carriers.

Other issues: how to lessen disparities in enforcement by the states, and find data that ties specific safety violations to crash risk.

Committee member Danny Schnautz of Clark Freight Lines put on the agenda the issue of shippers using CSA data as a carrier selection tool.

"Among shippers and brokers the (SMS) score is viewed as the Holy Grail," he said. Despite the warnings on the CSA web site about the uses of the data, "the message is not getting through to them."

CSA Improvements

The committee members took time to enumerate the ways CSA has benefited truck safety. They noted that the system is dispensing more data and giving the agency the ability to reach more carriers without a dramatic increase in resources.

It is better than the earlier system, SafeStat, in getting at the worst offenders, and it has led to the start of a cultural change in the industry by forcing carriers to focus on the details of safety management.

The agency already is planning another round of improvements to follow on those it posted last Friday.

It will consider modifying roadside violation severity weights, and changing the way it uses vehicle miles in determining scores for the Crash and Unsafe Driving categories of CSA. In addition, it will consider adjusting safety event groupings in all of the categories.