October 12, 2010
Column | fastlane

2010: A safety odyssey

Despite protests from truckers, CSA 2010, the government's comprehensive new safety program, is getting under way.

By Clifford F. Lynch

When it comes to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 initiative (CSA 2010), there's no such thing as a consensus opinion. Some have hailed the program as a bold step toward making America's roads safer. Others have characterized it as potentially the most damaging regulation in the trucking industry's history—one that could result in a critical shortage of drivers.

The lack of consensus hasn't stopped the FMCSA from pushing forward with plans for implementation. The regulations are scheduled to take effect this year, although it appears they won't be fully implemented until 2011. Questions of the timetable aside, one thing is certain: They will be implemented, and they will apply to all carriers and drivers over which the FMCSA has jurisdiction.

The program at the heart of the controversy is a government safety initiative aimed at reducing crashes and associated injuries and fatalities by removing the worst carrier and driver violators from the road. It includes mechanisms for measuring driver and carrier safety performance, determining the cause of recurring safety problems, and developing recommendations for corrective action.

To identify safety risks, FMCSA has created a new Safety Measurement System (SMS), which measures drivers' and carriers' performance using the following seven criteria:

  1. Unsafe driving. This is simply the careless operation of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV); it would be measured by traffic violations and convictions for such things as reckless driving, improper lane changes, and speeding.
  2. Fatigued driving. Basically, this is driving while tired, as opposed to driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or other controlled substances. This would be tracked through hours of service compliance reviews, roadside inspections, and post-crash inspections and reports.
  3. Driver fitness. This category includes drivers who are unfit to operate a CMV due to lack of experience, lack of training, or some medical disqualification. Proof would be derived from failure to have a CMV license or from medical or training documentation, as well as from crash reports citing any of these as a factor.
  4. Use of controlled substances or alcohol. This is self-explanatory, and can be discovered through crash reports, drug tests, and roadside violations. Carriers will be required to conduct testing as well.
  5. Vehicle maintenance. Roadside violations for brakes, lights, and other mechanical defects fall into this category. Carriers will be required to keep pre-trip inspection, maintenance, and repair reports.
  6. Improper loading or cargo securing. This refers to the failure to secure loads to prevent shifting or spilled cargo—a particular concern with hazardous goods.
  7. Crash experience. Crash histories will be tracked, with particular attention paid to frequency and severity. This information will come from law enforcement and carrier reports or through compliance reviews.

What critics object to are not so much the measurement criteria themselves as the point-based ranking system that will be used to evaluate truckers. Some have questioned the weightings assigned to particular violations, while others have raised concerns about fairness to drivers. For example, in testimony before Congress in June, the American Trucking Associations argued that under the current system, drivers could be held accountable for accidents they didn't cause and urged the FMCSA to revise the regulations.

This is a valid concern, and it is important that it and other matters be dealt with as implementation progresses. Carriers have a right to expect fair and equitable treatment as well as consistent enforcement. The success of the program depends on it.

Clifford F. Lynch is principal of C.F. Lynch & Associates, a provider of logistics management advisory services, and author of Logistics Outsourcing – A Management Guide and co-author of The Role of Transportation in the Supply Chain. He can be reached at cliff@cflynch.com.

More articles by Clifford F. Lynch

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