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Thursday, December 13, 2012

FMCSA Activates 11 Changes to CSA, Including Hazmat Compliance Proposal

By Eric Miller, Staff Reporter
This story appears in the Dec. 10 print edition of Transport Topics.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said last week it activated previously announced changes to its Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, including the adoption of a controversial proposal to step up hazardous materials compliance, and the elimination of a perceived enforcement bias against flatbed carriers.
FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro said during a Dec. 3 conference call the agency implemented 11 CSA changes, including the creation of a stand-alone hazardous materials compliance category and moving cargo-securement violations into the vehicle maintenance category.

The changes, initially made available to carriers in August, include changes to two Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories the agency uses to monitor carrier performance. FMCSA also renamed another BASIC.
The CSA program uses roadside violation inspection and crash data to help FMCSA identify unsafe or high-risk motor carriers.

FMCSA said when it first unveiled the tweaks in August they would only cause “modest” changes to the program’s Safety Measurement System carrier percentile scores but would “sharpen our focus on the carriers that need our focus.”

But the new hazmat category has been controversial among motor carriers that are not primarily hazmat haulers. Some of those carriers have said a preview of the new BASIC showed their scores would significantly worsen.
However, carrier scores in the new hazmat category will not be available to the public for an undetermined period.
Some in trucking also have said the cargo-securement violations would be de-emphasized because they would get lost in the vehicle maintenance category.

Other modifications that went live last week include changing the name of the Fatigued Driving BASIC to the Hours-of-Service Compliance BASIC, removing 1-to-5 mph speeding violations from carrier and driver safety scores, and assigning the same CSA severity weights to paper logs and electronic logging device violations.
The changes also included eliminating vehicle violations derived from driver-only inspections, and driver violations from vehicle-only inspections, Ferro said.

The changes went public on Dec. 3 as an early update to FMCSA’s monthly update of carriers’ SMS scores. The agency generally updates the scores around the 21st of each month, but chose to update the December scores early using the CSA changes.

Ferro said that after six years of research and stakeholder input, the CSA program has been “a very effective program and a positive change for safety.”

In 2011, roadside inspection-related violations were down 8%, and driver violations for inspections decreased 10%, Ferro said.

“These two figures represent the most dramatic decrease in violation rates in a decade,” Ferro said.
But in a white paper issued Dec. 5, American Trucking Associations said the CSA measurement system lacks sufficient data to render meaningful scores for most carriers.

The white paper pointed to recent research by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute that confirmed that commercial motor vehicle crash underreporting by state agencies has long plagued FMCSA’s ability to accurately measure motor carrier safety performance.

“Indeed, in 37 evaluations of 35 states, UMTRI found reporting rates ranging from under 10% of reportable crashes to over 80%,” the white paper said. “This wide disparity undoubtedly creates vast discrepancies between the safety measurements of carriers with similar crash performance operating in different states.”
FMCSA said it has sufficient violation data to assess 40% of active carriers in at least one safety rating category but only enough to “assign a percentile rank or score” in at least one category to 12% of active carriers, ATA said.

But ATA said the vast majority of these carriers are assigned a score in only one category. The agency contends this weakness is not problematic because “those carriers are involved in 83% of the crashes.”
“This statement concerns us since FMCSA doesn’t really know how many commercial motor vehicle crashes are occurring or who is involved in them,” said ATA President Bill Graves. “Many crashes simply don’t get reported to the agency,” he said.

Dave Osiecki, senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs for ATA, said the federation appreciates the agency listening to industry and making the changes.

“Clearly, CSA remains a work in progress, though,” Osiecki said. “In some cases, the recent changes were made with little or no underlying crash risk analyses. The Hazmat Compliance BASIC is a good example.”

However, Ferro dismissed concerns over recent research by the American Transportation Research Institute that concluded at least two of the BASICs don’t directly relate to crash risk.

“Compliance and accountability together yield the strongest safety benefits,” Ferro said. “It’s absolutely accurate that all of these BASICs identify noncompliance, or focus on compliance. Several of the BASICs have a much higher correlation to crash risk.”

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