FMCSA tanks proposed changes to CSA safety measurement system

July 13, 2018

Jami Jones


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently announced it is abandoning proposed changes to the embattled Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety measurement system.

The program, launched in 2010, has been heavily criticized for being more of an enforcement and compliance tool rather than achieving its stated goal of identifying motor carriers with higher crash risk.

In 2015, FMCSA proposed changes to the program that were touted as moving CSA closer to identifying high-risk motor carriers. However, before those changes were fully implemented, Congress stepped in and mandated an independent study of the changes.

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 mandated a correlation study. Congress also dictated that FMCSA was to commission the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to conduct the study.

The National Academy of Sciences completed a congressionally mandated study of the safety measurement system and released the results in June 2017. In short, the study concluded that the safety measurement program is defendable on paper but falls short on execution.

“(The Safety Measurement System) is structured in a reasonable way, and its method of identifying motor carriers for alert status is defendable,” the panel states in the report’s summary.

“However, much of what is now done is ad hoc and based on subject-matter expertise that has not been sufficiently empirically validated. This argues for FMCSA adopting a more statistically principled approach that can include the expert opinion that is implicit in SMS in a natural way.”

Following the less-than-glowing study, FMCSA sought comments in September 2017 from industry stakeholders on the correlation study and the ongoing test of proposed changes to CSA.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed comments and said the study was right on the money, to a point, but that it didn’t go far enough in identifying problems with the program.

“Most of the discussion concerning CSA has centered primarily on the accuracy of the data and the methodology behind the safety ratings. While these factors are important, OOIDA fears that they have distracted the agency and others from properly evaluating the actual performance and effectiveness of CSA,” OOIDA said in its comments.

“Since the inception of the CSA and SMS programs in 2010, we have seen a steady uptick in truck-related crashes, injuries and fatalities of 39 percent, opposed to a 27 percent decrease in total crashes between 2005 and 2009.”

Turning to the proposed changes that would have in part altered intervention thresholds and moved out-of-service violations to different categories in addition to a number of academic changes, OOIDA continued in its criticism.

At the core of the program is the inspection data collected.

“Without consistent and standardized data, the (proposed algorithm) model will be plagued with the same lack of data integrity that the current CSA and (safety measurement system) programs suffer with now,” according to the OOIDA.

While CSA has had its problems, motor carriers faced adverse public reaction because the scores were publicly available. They have since been pulled from public view, and OOIDA would like to see it stay that way.

“These ratings fail to give accurate and adequate information for the purpose of evaluating a carrier’s safety program. The perception of shippers and brokers based upon the present data that has been shown to be inadequate and misleading is unconscionable,” according to OOIDA.

Apparently, OOIDA wasn’t alone in its criticism.

FMCSA issued a notice on July 10 that it was pulling the plug on the proposed changes.

“As a result of the ongoing implementation of the NAS recommendations, FMCSA removed the preview from the SMS website and will not be proceeding with the proposed changes at this time.