Truckers and Compliance Safety Accountability – Does It Work?

Hildebrand & Wilson, LLP May 14, 2015

Heavy trucks account for a large number of vehicles on the nation’s highways. They are also responsible for a disproportionate number of serious and fatal accidents. Recent efforts to reduce these numbers have brought about continued changes to safety laws as well as the implementation of new safety programs. Lawyers who handle truck accidents recognize that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Compliance Safety Accountability initiative is one of the newer safety programs. It was designed to improve driver compliance with current safety laws. People who seek the services of truck wreck attorneys claim that the Safety Measure system is skewed and unfair.1

What Is Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA)?

The goal when CSA began in 2010 was to track drivers and motor carriers via citations issued for safety violations. The program’s intent was to increase driver compliance with traffic and safety regulations. Trucking companies receive scores based on the number and type of violations their drivers receive. This system provides a more thorough and focused way for the FMCSA to review a carrier’s violations, determine future accident risk, and intervene to reduce risk.1

Current Results with the CSA System

According to the FMCSA, two things have happened between the implementation of the CSA rating system and warning letters sent based on the results of this monitoring. First, the system identified specifically exhibited carrier trends termed as “high risk.” This determination was based on scores received from a prescribed list of safety checks that are a part of the CSA program. Second, the system has identified carriers at risk for future crashes and required either intervention or investigation due to citations received. Compliance levels have improved as a result. According to their CSA program report, in the three years since the program started, the FMCSA has increased annual interventions from 16,000 to 44,000.2

Criticism of the New CSA System

According to lawyers who help clients recover from truck-related accident injuries, the purpose of the CSA system is to raise awareness about safety infractions and encourage companies to increase driver compliance. FMCSA has stated in a February 2014 report2 that the CSA program has accomplished those stated goals; however, a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)3 at the same time questioned if certain aspects of the program were effective in identifying motor carrier safety risks.

Carriers are assigned negative scores when drivers receive citations through the current Carrier Safety Measurement System (CSMS) scoring system and methodology.2 If specific drivers responsible for such scores leave their current carrier, the marks are not removed from that carrier’s score. Lawyers familiar with truck accidents say carriers retain negative scores from non-employed drivers; at the same time, those drivers can go to other truck carriers blemish-free because their negative records do not follow them. Since CSA carrier ratings can be openly viewed online by anyone, carriers claim this is costing honest companies lost income, while leaving other companies at risk from non-compliant drivers.

Lawyers who work with clients involved in truck accidents suggest the effect of these marks is especially significant for smaller companies with only a few drivers, as one infraction creates a proportionately larger black mark for small companies than for large companies with many drivers. Carrier companies and the GAO argue the Safety Measurement System (SMS)2 method of calculating these scores provides a skewed look at actual risk. As a result, the CSA Program does not offer as great a benefit in real life as is claimed.3

Lawyers experienced in handling claims resulting from truck wrecks explain that the new CSA initiative has improved the ability to predict larger numbers of risks, although the GAO report clearly identified a number of faults in the SMS calculations.3 The GAO report includes recommendations to improve the current CSA system to make it more useful in increasing driver compliance and improving carrier safety. In the meantime, truck accident lawyers continue to help their clients contend with any issues resulting from non-representative scores, and remain alert for any changes in the CSA program. The best way for a carrier to remain top-rated is to demand compliance from drivers and maintain a favorable CSA score!

1 National Safety Council, Safety & Health Magazine: CSA: Three Years In, May 2014

2 Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) – The Carrier Safety Measurement System (CSMS) Effectiveness Test by Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), January 2014

2 GAO Report to Congressional Committees: Federal Motor Carrier Safety – Modifying the Compliance, Safety, Accountability Program Would Improve the Ability to Identify High Risk Carriers, February 2014