Love or hate departing FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro, it’s hard to deny that the topic of truck safety was pushed to a new level of awareness during her nearly-five-year term.

“Never before the introduction of [the] CSA program, has safety been on the lips of so many industry leaders and professional drivers,” a small group of owner-operators wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Yes, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, implemented under Ferro (although it had its start years earlier), doesn’t always and automatically equate to safer companies.

We all know of (and maybe you are one) a very safe carrier that has high (bad) CSA scores in one BASIC category or another because of some fluke or inconsistency in the system. It could be a base of operations in a state known for excessive enforcement of certain violations, or a single bad apple or bad crash skewing the scores of a small fleet. And there no doubt are unsafe carriers still out there managing to skate by with acceptable CSA scores.

I think even the government realizes that compliance and safety are not interchangeable — after all, the official name of the CSA program uses both terms.

“Can you be safe and have high scores? Sure,” said John Seidl, a former state trooper and DOT compliance officer, now a consultant. “We want to be safe AND have low scores.”

Seidl was speaking at last month’s Fleet Safety Conference in Schaumburg, Ill., put on by HDT and our sister fleet publications at Bobit Business Media.

“Let’s forget about CSA,” Seidl said during a session on truck inspections, maintenance and safety. “We’re here so your vehicle doesn’t kill somebody. There are vehicles on the road that are so unsafe that somebody dies.”

Does that mean every CSA violation is the type that can cause a fatality? Of course not. He gave the example of missing reflective tape on a mudflap.

“The mere fact that a company doesn’t have reflective tape on a mudflap isn’t going to kill anyone, but it demonstrates to the government that you aren’t paying attention to the details of this game.

“I’m not trying to say safety’s a game. It’s not. But in this system, in this game, you have to find something before they do.”

A system of finding truck defects before the inspectors will not only improve your CSA scores, but also find those truly dangerous problems before they harm someone. As a side benefit, you’ll help prevent breakdowns that cost money and result in late deliveries and unhappy drivers.

The best person to spot those defects is the driver. After all, he’s in that truck the most and is supposed to do daily vehicle inspection reports. The second best would be the mechanic, Seidl said, who should be doing regular preventive maintenance inspections. The third best would be a supervisor spot-checking a vehicle. The one you don’t want is the roadside inspector finding it.

Having a real “safety culture” at your company helps make this happen.

Another speaker at the conference had some advice on that. “Safety is not just a program. It’s a core business function,” said keynote speaker Jeff Castillo, global vehicle safety lead for Monsanto. “How do you solve a problem? Make it everyone else’s problem.”

In other words, get people to take ownership of safety and compliance at your company — make everyone responsible, not just the safety director. Drivers doing their daily vehicle inspections, mechanics promptly fixing problems, dispatchers not pushing drivers to operate tired, IT people finding more efficient ways to track inspections or compliance-related documentation, supervisors doing spot-checks of equipment (when was the last time the owner went out and really looked at the trucks), upper management setting a good example — it all matters when it comes to keeping CSA scores low and saving lives on the road.