Problems with CSA Data Quality

The level of frustration with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program reached a new high during 2 days of meetings recently held by an FMCSA advisory committee.

A team of representatives for motor carriers, trade associations, brokers, law enforcement and shareholders voiced their grievances at the conference held in Washington, D.C., specifically with regard to the lack of fault and preventative measures for crashes as well as the overall credibility of its safety ratings.

The majority of the frustration seemed rooted in what is perceived as a fundamental flaw in the program: the reliability of the roadside data upon which the entire system is founded.

No Simple Answers to the Crash-Fault Question
As made evident by presentations from a number of accident reconstruction professionals, determining fault and preventability is a difficult task given the lack of expertise of roadside officers.

One expert, Jeffrey A. Kidd of Collision Specialities Inc., indicated that the sheer number of variables involved in a crash requires a professional on-site in order to accurately reconstruct the scene. However, Kidd testified that many contributing factors fall into a grey area of cause and accountability, making a system that takes into account preventative measures unfeasible. Another professional, Jim Hrycay of Hrycay Consulting Engineers, stressed the need to educate officers and law enforcement on the front lines so that they can better relay information to accident reconstruction professionals.

Although a number of other improvements were suggested, such as adding information to the CSA Safety Measurement system website, as well as sweeping changes to the way the FMCSA presents data to shippers. As the meeting continued, the conversation inevitably steered back to the bedrock issue of quality data collection, with many in the industry expressing their frustration with the lack of clear disclaimers attached to the data.

As True Value Company Transportation Senior Director Gary Palmer noted, many shippers will eliminate carriers simply on the basis of scores in various Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC), regardless of the fact that there is no correlation between a low percentile and an increased level of risk, according to research done for both Driver Fitness and Controlled Substances/Alcohol BASICs.

In response, FMCSA representative Bill Quade noted that while the program is far from perfect, it is the only system that allows investigators to stay on the road and provide shippers and consumers with research material when determining their choice of carrier. Given the politics involved and the public clamor for driver safety, it is unlikely that the program will be abolished.

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