A coalition of motor carrier trade groups today asked the Department of Transportation (DOT) to remove carrier scores produced by the agency's Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) 2010 fleet monitoring system from public view, saying the scores are inaccurate and could cause legal trouble for users that rely on the results to select their carriers.
The 10-member group, consisting of motor property carriers, household goods movers, and the American Bus Association, called on DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx to pull down the scores from the website of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the DOT subagency that oversees motor freight and passenger safety. In a letter to Foxx, the group cited a report issued earlier this year by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that found that, in the case of truckers, FMCSA "lacks sufficient safety performance information" to reliably compare one carrier to the next. The report added that the lack of data "creates the likelihood" that many scores "do not represent an accurate or precise safety assessment for a carrier."
Under the program's methodology, a carrier and driver's safety performance is rated by seven criteria known by the acronym of BASICs (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories). Based on a carrier's BASIC scores and comparisons with scores of other carriers, FMCSA determines how it should intervene against a carrier, if it does so at all. Intervention steps range from a warning letter to stiff fines and penalties, to a determination that a carrier is unfit to operate.
Critics of CSA—while acknowledging its good intentions of improving safety by removing high-risk operators from the road—say the flawed methodology and lack of enforcement resources result in good and bad carriers effectively being lumped together. This can portray fit carriers as unfit, and vice versa, they argue.
Critics also contend that in the freight arena, shippers and brokers could face significant liability risk in the event of a crash-related fatality or injury should a plaintiff's lawyer successfully contend that they either relied on unreliable data sets or failed to consider data that showed a history of one or two safety infractions.
CSA's critics, notably the American Trucking Associations (ATA), have long argued that the near-term solution is for FMCSA to keep the scores from public view. Longer-term, Congress must require that the agency, not the marketplace, be the final arbiter of a carrier's fitness, they contend.
For now, keeping the scores from public scrutiny will "not only spare motor carriers harm from erroneous scores but also reduce the possibility that the marketplace will drive business to potentially risky carriers that are erroneously being painted as more safe," the group said in the letter. ATA and the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), two trucking groups often at odds on public-policy issues, were two of the groups signing the letter.
Editor's note: FMCSA spokeswoman Marisa Padilla responded to DC Velocity's request for comment after this article was posted on our website. Foxx will respond directly to the group's letter, Padilla said in an e-mail. She also said that the GAO's "one-size-fits-all" approach to inspection-data analysis would require FMCSA to triple its number of annual inspections to more than 10 million, an unrealistic objective given the agency's resources. Even if the agency had a larger inspection budget, it still would be unable to assess the behavior of more than 90 percent of the nation's motor carrier population, Padilla added. The current CSA methodology allows FMCSA to focus its efforts on identifying the most high-risk carriers and bringing them into compliance or removing them from the road, she said.