In late 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) implemented an extensive new program to improve safety in the commercial trucking industry. Known as the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, the initiative focuses on identifying and sanctioning trucking companies with track records of risky driving in order to prevent future trucking accidents.
The CSA program evaluates trucking companies and keeps track of individual drivers. But, even though individuals are monitored, gaps in the system may allow unsafe truckers to remain behind the wheel.
The CSA Program
Under CSA, a Safety Measurement System called SMS tracks safety violations and accident data, which are then correlated with increased odds of future crashes to rank trucking companies’ safety levels. If a particular commercial carrier’s SMS score reaches a high-enough level, the FMCSA can intervene to address safety problems.
Company and Individual Safety Ratings
When a trucking company displays a pattern of safety violations, the FMCSA may respond in a number of ways. A warning letter that highlights a problematic safety category and explains what could result if the safety violations continue is often the first official contact. If violations continue after the warning letter, off-site investigations, onsite investigations, civil penalties or even orders forcing companies to stop operating are possible.
While each time an individual driver working for a particular company receives a violation it affects the company’s overall safety score, the information is not used to rate the driver as an individual.
The FMCSA has emphasized that CSA is not meant to rate the safety of individual drivers. Nonetheless, while driver data is not made available to the public, the agency admits that driver safety records are used to identify targets for FMCSA investigations.
In addition, a related FMSCA initiative, the Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP), also tracks individual driver statistics. The PSP is not a part of CSA; however, it records instances of the same driver violations that figure into CSA scores.
Even though the professed purpose of the CSA is to monitor company-level rather than individual compliance, some attention is focused on individual drivers. For example, “red flag drivers” who have committed certain serious violations are pointed out in a trucking company’s official CSA profile, and they may face more stringent individual scrutiny.
Screening Dangerous Drivers
Some experts say there are troubling gaps in the FMCSA’s rules. Although it keeps records of individual driver violations, the FMSCA does not take action against drivers with dangerous safety records. Both the CSA and PSP programs rely in large part on the judgment of trucking companies to weed out unsafe drivers.
Furthermore, the information collected about individual drivers may be insufficient for trucking companies themselves to properly evaluate drivers. Individual data under the CSA program is not easy to acquire, and PSP reports are only available to drivers’ prospective employers. PSP report data also expires; safety violation information only goes back five years, and crash histories are reported for just three years.
Commercial trucking companies are for-profit operations, and sometimes the business culture of trucking can lead to dangerous behavior. Individual operators are often pressured to drive faster and cover more miles, irrespective of weather conditions or fatigue. Given the limited scope of federal regulations, these day-to-day business priorities can take precedence over safety standards in the minds of some in the trucking industry.
However, others on the road should not have to bear the costs of unsafe truck operation. If you have been injured in an accident with a truck, contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will be able to help you hold unsafe drivers and irresponsible trucking companies accountable for their actions, even if government regulators fail to do so.