Based on the grading by truck fleet executives, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safetycompliance program at best ranks a “Gentleman’s C.” Put another way, fleets rank the two-year-old program highly for all its intents and purposes—but poorly for its forethought and for how slowly its deficits are being addressed yet alone corrected. Indeed, at the moment trucking is awaiting final word of “planned improvements” FMCSA will make to CSA. (See box, page 32.) The agency announced in late March that it will modify CSA’s BASICs. Of course, it remains to be seen how fleets will score CSA after these changes are implemented.

Fleet managers who spoke to Fleet Owner about CSA scored the program a 5 or a 6 based on a scale of 1 to 10, and one trucking association safety expert said its members collectively would give it a 6.5. Yet other fleet execs declined to comment, choosing to reserve judgment until after FMCSA has released its aforementioned improvements.

“I’d give it a 5,’” says Dale Corum, operations manager for Louisville, KY-based carrier Mercer Transportation. “As a whole, the program is a good one in its aim to create safer highways by addressing issues that needed to be addressed.”

However, Corum says Mercer, which runs a 100% owner-operator fleet, is not at all happy with some of the impacts CSA has had on its drivers. “There were violations under the old compliance system that resulted in essentially slaps on the wrist, but today for the same offense [drivers] get assigned points against them that will stay with them for two to three years.

“What’s more,” he continues, “we terminate owner-operators who reach our self-imposed point threshold. We do like the fact the points follow the driver, so not only is the company hurt by their actions [but so are the drivers]. We include the points given drivers [when conducting] pre-hiring checks.”

Corum says another inequity that hits drivers very hard is that under CSA, there are no mechanisms for them to fight an unsatisfactory write-up. “We have had load-securement issues—such as straps too loose where they touch a load—and these affect our overall score in the CSA BASICs. And a write-up often comes down to the very individual view of a situation by a given roadside inspector—there are no specifics to it. It’s very subjective and we have to wonder if people are trained enough to make these rulings.”

Another area of concern for Corum is what he calls “pile-on” write-ups. “We’re finding that if one piece—say of the brake system—is not working, the inspector will write up the whole system. Or even if a pigtail is loose, they’ll write it up as all lights are out. They do claim they are working on this, but right now this piling on can cancel a guy right out of our own point system.”

He says citations for “unsafe driving” are yet another bugaboo.

“Drivers are getting warnings for being one to five mph over the speed limit, but now a point is assessed for that.” As Corum sees it, CSA “does not yet reflect the realities of what is going on with the fleet.” In particular, he points to the inequity of CSA’s peer grouping of carriers. “We’d fare better [in the rankings] if we were being compared with other flatbed carriers. Instead, because the peer groups are created based on miles run, we are lumped in with van carriers, which have few if any cargo-securement issues. To be fair, the peer groups should be built around equipment run or type of operation. And there’s been no indication this will change.”