As we begin 2013, it's a good time to look back on 2012 at some of the biggest trucking stories and trends. Here are our picks for the top two stories of the year:

2. Highway Bill

Congress finally agreed on a highway bill, though not the traditional six-year funding mechanism.

The agreement dodged the all-important question of how to secure long-term reinvestment in surface transportation, but it did continue the highway program at current funding levels. To get there, Congress had to overcome a push by conservative Republicans in the House to cut spending by about a third to levels that could be supported by the Highway Trust Fund alone, and the Senate had to cobble together a one-time package of funding transfers to make up the difference.

The bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, funds transportation programs through September 2014. It holds transportation spending at current levels, authorizing $101.3 billion for highways and transit over the next 27 months.

The agreement lays the groundwork for the first national freight policy. It includes a number of trucking provisions, including mandatory electronic onboard recorders to track driver logs, a study of the 34-hour restart provision, a study of size and weight limits. It gives FMCSA legal authority for a range of initiatives, many of which already are under way.

"This measure includes historic reforms -- cutting red tape and consolidating or eliminating nearly 70 federal programs," said Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla., in a statement.

1. CSA

In the two years it has been up and running, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Compliance, Safety, Accountability program has demonstrated many flaws and shortcomings, notes Washington Editor Oliver B. Patton in our January 2013 cover story. But the program is credited with shining a brighter light on truck safety.

CSA literally has changed the way carriers do business, says Dave Heller, director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Association. It has put safety to the forefront, much more than it ever has been before.

FMCSA announced changes in its SMS (Safety Management System) in December that address some of the previous complaints, including an over-emphasis on open-deck cargo securement. It dropped the Cargo-Related BASIC and added a new Hazardous Materials BASIC that is expected to put more scrutiny on carriers hauling hazmat.

However, the list of CSA problems remains long and daunting. Ask practically anyone in trucking whats the biggest problem with the program, and the answer comes back quickly: CSA does not account for fault in crashes. The safety advocacy community has a different perspective, saying carriers are putting too much emphasis on accountability.

The accountability issue is just the start of the list of complaints, including:
- The system does not touch enough carriers.
- The data does not accurately reflect crash risk.
- There are disparities in how the states collect and report the data that goes into the system.
- FMCSA has not been candid about the systems limitations.
- The process for correcting the data, called DataQs, is cumbersome and unreliable.
- Shippers are misusing CSA data in their carrier selection process.

Read more about CSA in the January 2013 issue of HDT.