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How Can Truckers Make CSA Work For Them?

We can’t escape it. We now live in an environment of slick governmental regulations, market pressures, and industry changes. And while many of us lament this “new normal,” might we be looking at it all wrong? Could we make these changes work for us, rather than us working against them?

The fact is this: Operating a rig in a safe manger is now hugely beneficial to both fleets and truckers. There are a number of incentives out there – whether they be regulatory or not – that give everyone a good reason to focus on better safety outcomes. So now that we’ve brought it up, how exactly do we do it?

Safety in Demand

Recruiting and retaining qualified truck drivers begets proper safety. After all, fleets must now work as hard as they can to fully comply with today’s regulatory requirements. What does this mean? Fleets have a compelling reason to find and retain truck drivers you will help them run as safe an operation as possible.

Conversely, smart truckers know that the services of safe and competent truck drivers are in high demand. They fully understand that what they do and how they drive has an impact on both them and the fleet alike.

So keeping all these factors in mind, what should fleets be doing to properly communicate what the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) measurement system is all about? Furthermore, is there a way for them to leverage the elements that make up CSA to attract and retain the best of the best?

Leveraging the CSA

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rolled out the CSA system in 2010, and since then fleets have come to better understand the ins and outs of this regulatory program. What is less known is how truly knowledgeable most truck drivers are regarding the importance of CSA.

According to a study completed by the American Transportation Research Institute, the average trucker only got six questions correct on a 14-question CSA quiz. The scores weren’t exactly a ringing endorsement of the system from the perspective of the truck driver.

Are you a truck driver who probably doesn’t know as much as you should about CSA? Here are the principles you need to keep in mind:

  • A fleet cannot use the Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) to evaluate your current driving record, unless you give them explicit permission to do so.
  • The PSP can only be used to evaluate a driver’s five-year crash and three-year inspection history.
  • Once employed, your safety record can and will have an impact on your carrier’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) numbers and statistics.
  • Motor carriers will not “inherit” violations occurred before the truck driver was employed by them. Only violations logged under their authority will be applied to their SMS record.
  • Did you know that it is up to the truck driver – not the fleet – to keep his or her individual safety record accurate and up-to-date? You can order a PSP record from for $10 by clicking here. Or you can get one free via a Freedom of Information request by clicking here.
  • Looking to improve the accuracy of your report? The FMCSA runs a website allows truckers and fleets to make what is called a Request for Data Review (RDR) if they feel that the accuracy of the data that determines their score is suspect.

When it comes to knowing the details of the government’s regulatory safety measures, there are several things that truck drivers should be doing. Beyond just ensuring CSA compliance they should be:

  • Cognizant of the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs).
  • Review and be aware of the FMCSA’s online SMS methodology document.
  • Learn about their carrier’s safety records.
  • Keep a copy of their inspection report.

One thing is for sure, while the CSA program does increase the regulatory burden that truckers and fleets must deal with, it can help improve safety outcomes and be used in a beneficial way for all.

In our next installment on utilizing the CSA to your benefit, we will discuss how truckers and fleets can leverage equipment and technology to ensure constant compliance and perfect understanding of the CSA system.

Trucking Update from Washington

Congress met on April 29th to discuss issues affecting truck drivers and the trucking industry. The title of the hearing was The Future of Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety: Technology, Safety Initiatives, and the Role of Federal Regulation.

The congressional hearing covered everything from hours of service to CSA scores to entry-level driver training. Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association’s (OOIDA) Danny Schnautz spoke on behalf of his group, while the American Trucking Association (ATA) was represented by Tom Kretsinger.

What the congressional hearing showed is that Washington still has a long way to go in squaring government regulation with the needs of the trucking industry. At times the hearing grew heated on both sides, with passionate points and counterpoints being lobbied back and forth.

From Trucking’s Perspective

In his testimony, Schnautz, who is an operations manager for a national freight line, explained how burdensome regulatory actions and technological “solutions” run amok are affecting the industry. The shadow of government mandates and ever-changing rules can hinder small businesses and push longstanding safe drivers and carriers out of business.

“The current focus on technology initiatives actually hinders safety by placing more pressure on drivers when they are already caught between a regulatory rock and an economic hard place,” Schnautz said.

In his expansive testimony Schnautz tried to convey that technology can never be a substitute for skilled, professional truck drivers. He states that the focus on an alert system, rather than drivers making real-time safety decisions, degrades the skill of the truck driver and de-values the entire supply chain.

From Washington’s Perspective

Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., chairman of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, convened the meeting. After the opening hearing, he didn’t waste time jumping right into the issues. His first target was the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Graves stated that he is concerned about the agency’s rapid growth since it was created in 2001. “While I support a strong safety program,” he began, “we need to ensure that funds are being spent on initiatives that will move the needle in terms of reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities on the nation’s highways.”

One of the initiatives that Graves mentioned as a solution seeking a problem was the push to increase insurance requirements for motor carriers. Brian Scott, who spoke on behalf of the United Motorcoach Association stated that raising insurance requirements on carriers would surely put some out of business.

Assessing Regulatory Burdens

For much of the session, subcommittee members focused their questioning on rules recently outlined by the FMCSA, with hours of service being the most talked about. Rep. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., said that the hours of service rule “actually made the world less safe for people in your industry.”

Speaking on behalf of the ATA, Tom Kretsinger highlighted how micromanagement of truckers’ hours can end up with “laws of unintended consequences.”

The final target for committee members was the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program. Schnautz testified that “under its current methodology, CSA inaccurately paints small carriers as unsafe, reducing access to business and opening them up to misguided enforcement activities.”

Even law enforcement got in on the action, as Idaho State Police representative Captain Bill Reese endorsed legislation to remove CSA data from public view. OOIDA also backed this view, saying some of the data doesn’t have real bearing on a fleet’s ability to carry out safe operations.

Not All Bad

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however. The subcommittee’s ranking Democrat, Eleanor Holmes Norton of Washington, D.C., stated that she was pleased to see the industry and FMCSA working together on rules for entry-level truck driver training programs.

“More robust driver training is something Congress has directed DOT to consider for nearly 25 years,” she said. “The first directive was in a bill in 1991. To say this rule is overdue is putting it fairly mildly. I hope this new Entry Level Driver Training Advisory Committee can facilitate a rule that all parties can agree on,” she concluded.

Even though there was some good and some bad on both sides, the hearing highlighted a glaring deficiency between industry and government, and within government itself. As Republicans drive for less regulation, and Democrats more, which way this regulatory battle plays out is anyone’s guess.

What is the Safety Fitness Determination Rule?

We’ve promised continued reporting on new rules and regulations that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to release this year. Last week we reported on the speed limiter mandate. This week we pivot to the safety determination rule which is tentatively scheduled for June publication.

While a speed limiter mandate is a bit easier to decipher, what exactly does the safety fitness determination rule mean for trucking? Let’s dig deeper.

The History

The FMCSA has been talking about the safety fitness determination rule for years. Original language governs how the DOT will identify “chameleon” carriers.

A “chameleon carrier” is essentially an entity that attempts to avoid identification enforcement by registering under a different identity. The intended effect is to create an administrative process that will make it more difficult for companies with repeated safety violations to reincarnate into a new business. These rules will also be enforced for owner-operators.

 

The rule will be governed by the FMCSA’s Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program and will be implemented in three phases:

  1. Carrier Safety Management System (CSMS)
  2. Driver Safety Management System (DSMS)
  3. Safety Fitness Determination (SFD)

The CSMS and DSMS have been in place for quite a while now, with new technologies allowing carriers and federal agencies to start addressing system needs. The final step in the process is implementation of the SFD.

The Details

The SFD rule currently being prepared for publication is designed to use truck roadside inspection data combined with data from DOT auditor investigations to determine a carrier’s operational fitness. Once the data is plugged in, a score will be assigned and the SFD will have been made.

According to early indications, the SFD will land in one of three predetermined categories:

  1. Continue to operate
  2. Marginal
  3. Unfit

A carrier’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) score will also factor in to the methodology used in determining the SFD. The SFD would classify BASICs as “stand alone” and “non-stand alone.”

Examples of stand alone violations would include unsafe or fatigued driving. Examples of non-stand alone violations would be driver fitness, cargo related, or controlled substances or alcohol.

Much of the final determination will be driven by a carrier’s failed BASICS, both which ones and how many. What the exact methodology will be must wait until the rule’s final publication.

Fortunately the FMCSA published a format in 2009 that outlined what their initial methodology would be in weighing BASICs data with auditor data in the SFD. While it’s likely this methodology will have been changed over the past six years, perhaps we can glean a little out of what they have said.

  • If one stand alone basic equals or exceeds the failure threshold, an unfit determination would be assigned.
  • If one non-stand alone basic equals or exceeds the failure threshold, a marginal fitness determination would be assigned
  • If more than one non-stand alone basic equals or exceeds the failure threshold, an unfit fitness determination would be assigned.
  • If one or more fundamental violations are discovered in an audit, an unfit fitness determination will be assigned.
  • If all basics are below the failure threshold and there are no fundamental violations, a continue to operate fitness determination will be assigned.

The fundamental violations mentioned are described by the FMCSA as the following:

  1. 382.115(a)/Sec. 382.115(b)–Failing to implement an alcohol and/or controlled substances testing program (domestic and foreign motor carriers, respectively).
  2. 382.211–Using a driver who has refused to submit to an alcohol or controlled substances test required under part 382.
  3. 382.215–Using a driver known to have tested positive for a controlled substance.
  4. 383.37(a)–Knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting, or authorizing an employee with a commercial driver’s license which is suspended, revoked, or canceled by a State or who is disqualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
  5. 383.51(a)–Knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting, or authorizing a driver to drive who is disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.
  6. 387.7(a)–Operating a motor vehicle without having in effect the required minimum levels of financial responsibility coverage.
  7. 391.15(a)–Using a disqualified driver.
  8. 391.11(b)(4)–Using a physically unqualified driver.
  9. 395.8(a)–Failing to require a driver to make a record of duty status.
  10. 396.9(c)(2)–Requiring or permitting the operation of a commercial motor vehicle declared “out-of-service” before repairs are made.
  11. 396.17(a)–Using a commercial motor vehicle not periodically inspected.

Managing CSA scores has become an important aspect of successfully operating as a motor carrier. Now that the CSA will be combined with BASICs violations to create the SFD, are today’s carriers ready?

The FMCSA has been promising the final rule for a half-decade. Only time will tell if the new release date of June 17 will see final publication.

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