The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) has released an analysis evaluating operational impacts on business and carrier supply chains that have occurred since the full rollout of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program in December 2010.

ATRI’s latest CSA report examines two year’s worth of data collection from fleets, drivers, shippers and motor carrier safety enforcement personnel, providing what ATRI called the first comprehensive look at industry impacts including changes in driver hiring, driver training, driver wages, freight pricing and safety improvements.  The data also evaluates industry perceptions and knowledge of critical CSA program components.

Previous research from ATRI released this past fall focused on the relationship between CSA scores and crash risk. The latest industry impact study provides further insight into the impact of CSA on industry operations.

“There has been extensive debate concerning the real-world effects of CSA on the trucking industry. This paper examines several of the program’s anticipated or experienced outcomes, and assesses the likely short- and long-term byproducts of CSA,” the ATRI report said. “Conclusions are based on the existing literature as well as stakeholder input collected through ATRI’s separate motor carrier, truck driver, shipper and enforcement data collection efforts. Together, these sources have provided insights into the nature of CSA’s impacts on the commercial driver labor pool, the operations of motor carriers, the shipper-carrier relationship, and the ability of FMCSA to more effectively regulate the industry.”

After two years of CSA being fully operational, industry perceptions have adapted considerably to acknowledge that many of CSA’s impacts will be more long-term than initially expected, the study found.

“The program did not immediately result in a mass exodus of drivers or dramatically exacerbate shipping and operational costs. Still, the program remains a work-in-progress and will continue to draw criticism until persistent flaws are addressed,” ATRI notes.  Of particular concern are BASIC scores that do not measure crash risk, the absence of a mechanism for incorporating crash accountability determinations and regional differences in enforcement.


Impact on truck drivers

Concerning the commercial driver pool, the availability of drivers has not tightened as broadly as expected (beyond existing demographic and economic trends), the study found.

“Specifically, only a small fraction of currently employed drivers have been put out of work explicitly due to CSA. This is a marked deviation from industry expectations; shortly after CSA was introduced, experts were predicting that 10% to 20% of drivers would be terminated as a result of the program,” according to the report.

“Nonetheless, CSA’s effect has primarily been felt by prospective truck drivers. Employers report less leeway when evaluating driver applicants’ driving records compared to current employees,” the report said. “This makes sense since employers have more extensive knowledge of current drivers than of applicants, including insights into personality traits, behavioral patterns and home lives; therefore, employment decisions can often factor in information beyond a driver’s MCMIS or MVR data (not to mention, employers may be privy to explanations behind safety infractions or FMCSR violations).”

On the other hand, the report noted, applicants are principally defined by their driving histories. And since 2010, PSP has been particularly impactful in screening out a high percentage of undesirable drivers. “While this is a laudable practice that will likely keep the safety bar elevated, a consequence is that most employers now find it somewhat or extremely difficult to find and hire new qualified drivers. This figure grew from 72% of carriers in ATRI’s 2011 survey to 83% in ATRI’s 2012 survey, alongside the trend of carriers increasingly incorporating PSP into hiring practices.”

Although ATRI’s surveys and literature review revealed little change to drivers’ levels of base pay, numerous drivers and carriers reported financial safety incentives that were tied to CSA, the report said. For instance, some carriers now offer bonuses for RIs that are free of violations while others issue rewards to drivers for extended periods of driving without any safety incidents. Drivers are therefore more incentivized than ever to comply with safety regulations, which will not only improve their chances of remaining employed in the industry, but will also keep their employer’s CSA scores low.

Since CSA has altered many facets of a truck driver’s daily life, it is critical that drivers be informed concerning what CSA is and is not. Unfortunately, ATRI found that most drivers are not actively seeking out information on CSA. Fewer than half of drivers responding to ATRI’s surveys reported checking their respective employer’s BASIC scores. Similarly, a relatively small number of respondents (31%) have taken steps to access their own MCMIS data available through PSP. Not surprisingly then, is ATRI’s finding that drivers score very poorly on a CSA knowledge test.

ATRI says a more targeted learning approach is necessary for drivers since CSA represents a marked shift in the way safety and compliance are measured, and requires a tremendous amount of information to be communicated to drivers from FMCSA, fleets and trucking associations.