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CSA: How Good Intentions Engender Lawsuits

By Joel Anderson | 07/31/2012 | 6:27 AM

Several years ago, the trucking industry and the federal government embarked on a path to develop the Compliance,Safety and Accountability program for interstate truck operators which rates motor carriers as to their safety rating. Both industry and government desired a means to separate the safe motor carriers from those that were unsafe, and find a fair means to remove those unsafe carriers from the highways.

This last week, some trucking industry groups sued the U.S. Department of Transportaion because the data and algorithms chosen by DOT to predict safety are unsound. Among other problems with the new system is that it penalizes truckers by counting accidents where the trucker is not at fault and citations vacated by courts as part of their overall score. These data points are not evidence of unsafe behavior; yet they are rated as if they are by the algorithm with impact that a safe behavior is seen as an unsafe behavior.

Let's be clear about one thing: This controversy has not arisen because the American Trucking Associations members and other truck owners, including member companies of IWLA, desire less stringent safety enforcement. We have families on the roads, too, and we don't want to be forced to compete with fleet owners who cut costs by cutting corners on safety. What this is about is promoting true safety while applying good sense.

The CSA program is designed to collect safety data from inspections and crash reports and then weigh the severity of violations within seven different categories that cover a range of safety factors, such as unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, controlled substances and alcohol, vehicle maintenance cargo, and crash involvement. The idea is that the higher your CSA number, the less safe you are.

The system exceeds the limits of statiscal inference because the purpose is to provide a predictive value as to probability of unsafe behavior based on a set of data that comes from a variety of inputs of varying quality and no common standard. As I noted earlier, all of a truck operator's accidents are counted toward the CSA number – including those where someone other than the truck driver was at fault.

In addition, DOT's Federal Motor Carrier Administration, which administers the program, has decided to include all citations recorded against a carrier and refuses to eliminate those that have been vacated by courts. The truck driver can prove in a court of law that he or she didn't deserve the ticket, but the very fact a citation exists is seen as a predictor of unsafe behavior by FMCSA.

Over-reliance on the CSA by shippers has contributed to rapidly shrinking trucking capacity, according to the lead researcher for the 2012 State of Logistics report sponsored by Penske Logistics- Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals. Rosalyn Wilson a Senior Business Analyst with Delcan, said "Government regulations, such as CSA have already had the impact of reducing capacity in the industry. Many shippers reevaluated their carriers using CSA scores and dropped carriers with high scores."

The prospect for liability litigation has been a major concern driving shippers to drop carriers with high CSA scores, she said. Combine this with truckers who have exited the industry since the economic downturn began in 2008 and demographics that are catching up with an industry to create the driver shortage we have been warned about for years, and it is not surprising that shippers are already seeing trucking service failures in parts of the country.

Testifying at a congressional hearing, a representative of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (which also is suing DOT over the CSA) said that typically a trucker or small fleet operator can achieve an improved rating only after it has undergone a large number of clean inspections, adding that for small carriers just a few minor violations can send their scores skyrocketing, making it nearly impossible for them to secure new business.

It is a shame that potentially a useful program for identifying and removing unsafe motor carriers has ended up in court. Industry experts have pointed out the CSA's flaws all throughout the program's multi-year development, and provided better, if more modest in scope, predictive value to identify and remove the unsafe motor carriers from the highways. Instead, federal regulators felt there was such a strong need the need for a standard that they decided to impose one, irrespective of accuracy. And that means the industry must litigate to restore integrity to what could have been an important tool for promoting highway safety.

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About Joel Anderson

Joel Anderson

Joel D. Anderson is president and CEO of the International Warehouse Logistics Association (IWLA). Based in Des Plaines, Ill., IWLA is the 120-year-old association of the warehouse-based third-party logistics industry, with 500 members in the U.S. and Canada. Before joining IWLA, Anderson spent 28 years at the California Trucking Association, the last 13 as executive vice president and CEO. An economist by training and profession, Anderson was also a past board member of Cascade Sierra Solutions. He is a frequent speaker before supply chain industry groups.



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