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Critical Issues Facing Trucking Industry – CSA Takes Top Spot

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CSA Takes No. 1 Spot In Trucking’s Critical Issues; Changing Crash Accountability Factor Is Top Priority 

Lyndon Finney

THE TRUCKER STAFF

LAS VEGAS — From relative obscurity to the penthouse — or in the views of some — the outhouse.

That’s the story of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety performance system in terms of its meteoric rise to the No. 1 spot on the Top 10 critical issues facing trucking as rated by industry stakeholders in the 2012 American Transportation Research Institute’s annual survey.

“I don’t think it was a big surprise that CSA came out as the top issue,” Rebecca Brewster, ATRI president and chief operating officer, said at a news conference Oct. 9 held in conjunction with the annual American Trucking Associations Management Conference and Exhibition here.

“It first made an appearance on our survey two years ago at a time when we were getting ready for nationwide deployment of CSA so there was a lot of uncertainty surrounding the issue. It debuted at No. 4 and last year rose to No. 2 and then eclipsed the economy this year.”

Ongoing concerns with recent as well as potential changes in the Hours of Service rule caused that issue to remain in the No. 2 position for the second consecutive year.

The HOS rule has been in and out of court since the FMCSA made major revisions in 2003.

The most recent version, issued in December 2011, is being challenged in court by two groups led by the ATA and Public Citizen.

The ATA and its interveners don’t like the new 30-hour restart provision, the addition of a mandatory rest break after eight hours of driving and threats to reduce total drive time.

Public Citizen and its interveners want the 11- hour driving limit reduced to 10 hours and the restart provision completely eliminated.

“If you look over the years of the survey you will see Hours of Service tends to fluctuate depending on where the rules are,” Brewster said. “Have they gone back to the agency for a new rule, or are we confident that the rules in place are the rules we will have?”

While the economy may have been No. 3, it still garnered a lot of attention.

In fact, it received more votes for the top spot than CSA, but there were enough respondents who are feeling better about the economy to move it down in the rankings.

“Up until this year, the economy had held the No. 1 spot for three consecutive years. Before that we’d never had an issue hold the spot for two consecutive years,” Brewster said. “It has come down some as people are starting to see business pick back up.”

In 2009, when the economy first reached the No. 1 position, 51.6 percent of respondents ranked the economy the number one issue. Since then, that number has fallen each year (35. 7 percent in 2010, 31.2 percent in 2011 and 16. 1 percent in 2012).

The driver shortage and fuel prices were No. 4 and No. 5, respectively.

“When the economy was not doing as well and was at the top of the list, the driver shortage dropped as folks didn’t have freight to move so they didn’t have as high a demand for drivers. Now with the economy picking back up, there is a driver shortage,” Brewster said, adding that the driver shortage issue is likely exacerbated by CSA because “we know from other research that many drivers have concerns about CSA and its impact on their concern to stay employed in the industry.”

The position on the list that fuel prices receives correlates to the price at the pump,” Brewster told reporters.

“When fuel spikes like in 2008, it was the No. 1 issue,” she said. “As fuel prices come down, you’ll see that issue also come down in terms of ranking.”

In addition to ranking issues, respondents were asked to rank strategies for dealing with the issues.

The No. 1 strategy for CSA is to deal with the crash accountability, Brewster said.

“It still continues to be a very contentious issue,” she told reporters. “You have scores out in the public that are indicative of your safety performance, but in part those scores are based on crashes in which your driver had no fault in that crash. So it’s not really giving an accurate picture of your crash involvement with those non preventable crashes in there.”

ATRI Chairman of the Board Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA at North Little Rock, Ark., who joined Brewster at the news conference, was quick to point out an example.

“For instance, I just got this e-mail before I came in here,” Williams said, holding up his cell phone. “Since the first of July we’ve had 19 DOT reportable accidents, but only two of those were our fault. But all 19 go into the scoring methodology. No preventable accidents in the past two months. Somehow I think it’s a matter of fairness and accuracy. I think the part that is also evident in here is CSA is working and I think it’s important that we continually tweak it so it becomes the tool that it was envisioned to be.”

Williams cited another personal example of how it’s working.

“Our road assist bill went through the roof into the millions of dollars to replace lights on a truck because the driver knew he wasn’t going to move that truck with a light bulb out,” Williams said. “So we had to send a road assist crew at tremendous expense out to the truck to replace a little blub. Obviously, as you might expect, we are working on other solutions to this. But it was kind of like, they understand. This is an example of behavioral changes drivers have made because of their CSA score.”

It’s important to deal with the CSA issues now, because it’s here to stay, Williams said.

“A lot of people in the motor carrier community were convinced that it wouldn’t even stick,” Williams said. “If they stuck their head in the sand it would go away. There were a lot of people on the shipper side that helped support that notion. But as people have seen the changes in behavior and the impact of shippers using it as a tool to make carrier selection from the information, it’s changing. The carriers are taking it seriously if they want to remain enjoying the privilege of operating in interstate commerce.”

As he pointed out with the light bulb example, CSA has changed drivers’ behavior as well.

“I think it took a while for people to realize they were using real bullets,” Williams said. “Now that they’ve seen some carnage, they are responding. Either let’s get this fixed or there are some people who will just leave the industry because it’s ‘don’t tread on me’ and that’s fine.”

The remaining top concerns included electronic on-board recorder/electronic logging devices at No. 6, driver retention at No. 7, truck parking at No. 8, driver health/wellness at No. 9 and tied for No. 10 were congestion/bottlenecks and highway infrastructure.

For the first time, ATRI revealed the No. 12 through No 15 issues — driver distraction, tolling/ vehicle mileage taxes, tort reform and independent contractor status.

A copy of the survey is available at atri-online.Org.

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