Trucking Companies Claim Safety Rating System Flawed

The Transportation Department's Compliance, Safety and Accountability system, in development since 2004, is intended to flag companies with unsafe operating practices for inspection. However, the American Trucking Association, or ATA, citing complaints with the system, is seeking a review of the data the Transportation Department includes in their rating system.

The ATA told a House committee the safety rating system was unfair and blamed trucking, bus and other transportation companies for accidents that weren't their fault.

Consequently, shippers and insurers avoid working with companies with poor scores. Lawmakers, responding to complaints, are investigating whether the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, also known as the FMCSA, is hurting companies with unfair violations including things like paperwork mistakes.

Testifying before the House committee for FedEx, Scott Mugno, Vice President of Safety for the Arlington, Va. based company stated, “FMCSA must acknowledge that the system does not accurately and reliably identify unsafe carriers... [their priority] should be to focus on the least safe carriers, not merely those carriers that have compliance problems.”

Representative John Duncan of Tennessee, Chairman of the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, argued that the Transportation Department must provide an avenue for companies to challenge data and change inaccurate ratings. “We want bad companies acted on,” stated Duncan, “but we don't want the good companies treated like they're bad.”

Wells Fargo Securities LLC has warned shippers, brokers and insurers that FMCSA ratings are not reliable, and companies who use scores provided by FMCSA may face possible lawsuits. A study by Wells Fargo Securities was unable to establish a correlation between accidents and scores provided by the FMCSA.

However, a separate study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute has validated the FMCSA's rating system. According to the study, companies with lower scores have a higher rate of crashes.

According to agency administrator Anne Ferro, the FMCSA is listening to complaints and working to resolve issues. A task force working with both the agency and the industry is working to examine potential changes to the rating system. However, Ferro is cautious to note that investigators can only investigate so many companies, but the new program is working better than previous attempts.

Proponents of the current system urged lawmakers to make careful decisions. According to Steve Owings, co-founder of Road Safe America whose own son was killed in an accident with a trucker, determining responsibility for an accident isn't always easy. The police report of the accident that killed his son initially determined the truck driver was not at fault based upon a false account.

Speaking to the House committee, Owings stated, “it is a tremendous mischaracterization to say that this process is unfair and that some trucking companies are being blamed for crashes that they did not cause.”

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