Following regulations under the first phase of the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 programme, introduced last December, the US Department of Transport’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has released a draft strategic plan for 2011-2016, called Raising the Safety Bar.

The report outlines a framework for making trucking safety the administration’s highest priority in its regulation of more than 500,000 registered carriers. It is shaped by three core principles: raising the bar to enter the motor carrier industry; maintaining high safety standards to remain in the industry; and removing high-risk carriers, drivers and service providers from operation.

While the full impact of the ratings is still being assessed, there are early signs that some companies will be able to use them as a strategic advantage in tenders as they gain recognition for their safety procedures; however, there is some justified concern that the ratings are not entirely fair and could worsen the current driver shortage.

Several carriers have said that CSA has led them to improvements in the quality of their inspections. Don Osterberg, senior vice president, safety, security and driver training, at Schneider National put it plainly: “Anytime you have a new programme like that it drives additional focus [and] we have stepped up our focus in some of these areas.”

According to Hank Pressley, director of field solutions for safety, health & security at Ryder System, drivers are now more aware that regular inspection means that standards in this area have to be stringently maintained.

Scott Grady, senior vice president at Landstar System, said there has also been an improvement in reporting tyre quality and brake adjustment.

And there are signs from carriers that making improvements and demonstrating high results is working to their advantage in tenders with customers.

According to Jim Moore, Ryder’s vice president of solutions and execution standards, a major shipper with access to this data can make a better selection for carriers that are safe: “We are marketing our safety record,” he said.

“The informed shippers are now saying ‘we have to tender freight to carriers with favourable CSA scores’,” added Osterberg. “This is becoming a consideration in the shipper’s decision-making. Carriers with good scores can not only track more business, I think drivers that are committed to being safe and running legal will want to move to carriers that have demonstrated that they will not ask a driver to do things that they shouldn’t do.”

Grady also said that business is picked up by the removal of those carriers that do not meet the standard. “I can think of a couple of customers that have got rid of certain carriers and subsequently we have gained market share.”

Fundamentally unfair?

However, it is the loss of drivers that is causing concern, particularly as the US already faces a shortage of around 100,000 drivers. There have been rumours in the industry that CSA would eliminate 10-20% of the national driver pool. A recent survey conducted by the American Transport Research Institute, involving 4,500 truck drivers, found that nearly twothirds expressed some (32.5%) or extreme (32%) concern that they would personally be terminated as a result of the programme.

Rather than changing the requirements of being a driver, the regulations make it easier to examine performance records. But while those with good track records could benefit, the way the points are levied against both driver and carrier irrespective of blame for a crash needs attention. Osterberg related an incident involving a suicide attempt in front of a truck. While the FMCSA was lenient in not publishing the point accrued by the incident, he called it “fundamentally unfair”.

A more realistic approach is also needed in relation to the Department of Transport’s categories of preventable versus non-preventable accidents, according to Grady. He said that it should consider the types of specialist equipment drivers are using as well as driving location. “A guy in the Chicago metropolitan area doing deliveries and pickups has a higher chance of an accident than in Peducah, Kentucky and it’s not a fair way to do it,” he adds.