SAN ANTONIO. Changes are in the works for the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program introduced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) nearly four years ago – both from inside and outside the agency.

Speaking here at the 2014 Zonar Systems user conference as part of a panel discussion, Jack Van Steenburg, FMCSA’s assistant administrator and chief safety officer, said the agency’s top planned tweak to the CSA program will be to revise the safety fitness determination (SFD) process for carriers, incorporating roadside inspection data alongside information gleaned from onsite investigations.

“Currently the SFD is only tied to onsite investigations and a revised SFD would use roadside data as well as investigative data,” he explained. A notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) to make that change is expected sometime in 2014, Steenburg added.

He said the SFD revision is important because due to the amount of data that’s been collected during roadside inspections on carriers the agency considers “bad apples.”

“There are 520,000 active motor carriers in the U.S. and now we have sufficient [roadside] data on 38% of them,” he pointed out. “And those 38% operate 80% of the commercial vehicles in the U.S. and are involved in 91% of the crashes.”

Steenburg also noted that FMCSA is revamping the CSA website itself to present scoring data in a more readable form, with that retooled website format expected to go live “in the near future.”

However, Rob Abbott, VP-safety policy for the American Trucking Associations (ATA) trade group, said that CSA “continues to be plagued by data and methodology problems” that are “affecting the relationship between [CSA] scores and crash risk.”

He also noted that the “dual purpose” of the program – to help FMCSA prioritize carrier interventions while also providing safety data to third parties, such as shippers – muddies the safety thrust of the program to a degree.

“We need to think about the exposure to crash risk based on the operating environment of the carrier,” Abbott added. “We also need to address how reliable are average industry scores as they relate to individual carriers.”

To that end, Collin Mooney – deputy director for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) – said that the roadside inspection process may require change in order to improve CSA data quality and uniformity.

“For example there’s a disconnect between less-specific regulatory references and more detailed violation codes in roadside inspection software,” he explained. “There are also too many variations in violation descriptions, we are recommending that they be ‘hard coded’ or unchangeable within the software, with the ability to add additional clarifying descriptive information.”

Mooney also said there is no uniform process for how to handle an “adjudicated” citation – one nullified in court – that is linked to a violation documented on a roadside inspection report, though he stressed CVSA and FMCSA are currently discussing how best to address this issue.

Mooney pointed out, too, that what he called “regional disparities in enforcement” are making the development of more “uniformity” in CSA scoring difficult, so one avenue CVSA is pursuing to address this issue is whether it should create a new inspection category.

At the end of the day, though, FMCSA’s Steenburg argued that regardless of CSA’s issues, the program has helped “move the safety culture discussion to the boardrooms” of carriers and shippers alike.

“Look, I like CSA,” he said. “Yes there’s difference of opinion on the research [behind CSA's scoring methodology] but it’s making people within the industry talk about safety and it’s also generating more research into safety. It’s also helped us target high risk carriers – after 3.5 million roadside inspections to date we’ve targeted 7,200 ‘high risk’ carriers. But until we reach zero deaths [from truck crashes] there will always be room for improvement.”