The Blame Game: CSA's Crash Accountability Failings Cost Carriers Business

March 22, 2013

Envision these scenarios: * The driver of a stolen car trying to evade police in a high-speed chase crosses the highway median and hits a truck head-on. * A suspected drunk driver slams his car into the rear of a gasoline tanker, igniting a massive fuel fire. * A state police cruiser chases the driver of a suspected stolen SUV less than two minutes before the SUV crashes into a tanker truck filled with 8,600 gallons of fuel, igniting the tanker.

Should trucking companies loose business for being involved in accidents such as these? Obviously no.

Clearly, the truckers involved in these incidents could do nothing to avoid them and weren't responsible in any way for the crashes. But the way the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Compliance, Safety, Accountability safety monitoring system is currently set up, these real accidents, and others like them, are reported on the trucking companies' safety record, a failing in the system the American Trucking Assns. is calling for FMCSA to immediately rectify. "Including these types of crashes in the calculation of carriers' CSA scores, paints an inappropriate picture for shippers and others that these companies are somehow unsafe," said Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO. "It is clearly inappropriate for FMCSA to use these types of crashes to prioritize trucking companies for future government intervention, especially when responsibility for the crash is so obvious." Over a year ago, FMCSA shelved plans to make determinations on crash accountability in favor of further study. ATA subsequently called on FMCSA to establish an interim process to address crashes where it is "plainly evident" that the crash should not count against the trucking company. "FMCSA has been evaluating this issue for years and is not due to complete additional research until this summer," Graves said. "We don't need more research to conclude that it is inappropriate to use crashes like these to paint the involved trucking companies and professional drivers as unsafe."

To further trucking's point on the issue, ATA recently released a report that cites various studies to prove that car drivers are far more often to blame than truckers in truck-auto crashes. Cited in the report: * A University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study shows car drivers were assigned factors in 81% of crashes compared with 27% of truckers. (The percentage is more than 100% because in some instances both truck and car drivers were found to have some fault in the crash.) The study also found that cars were the encroaching vehicle in 89% of head-on crashes; in 88% of opposite-direction sideswipes; in 80% of rear-end crashes and in 72% of same-direction side-swipes, which it said were "obvious indicators of fault." * A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study that determines cars were assigned driver factors in 91% of head-on crashes; 91% of opposite-direction sideswipes, 71% of rear-end crashes and 77% of same-direction sideswipes. * A study from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) where 85% of cars and 26% of trucks were assigned driver factors in 2007; 85% of cars versus 25% of trucks were assigned driver factors in 2008 and in 2009, 81% of cars versus 22% of trucks were assigned driver factors in crashes. * Another FMCSA study where 77% of cars were assigned driver factors while 23% of trucks were assigned driver factors in crashes. ATA's call for clearing up glaring problems in the truck accident accountability system has spurred a finger-pointing "blame game" between the American Trucking Assns. and truck safety advocates.

The Truck Safety Coalition (TSC), a partnership between The Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways (CRASH) Foundation, and Parents Against Tired Truckers (P.A.T.T) fired back at the ATA report in a letter to Bill Graves, ATA president and CEO and Dan England, former ATA chairman. The truck safety advocacy group claims ATA's report is "a fallacious attack on victims of truck crashes" and that there is "no scientific basis for the allegation that passenger vehicle drivers are the major reason for truck-car fatal crashes there are no data and no studies which have shown this to be true." TSC claims the ATA report rehashes and misuses old studies in order to blame the drivers of passenger vehicles for causing most two vehicle crashes between light passenger vehicles and large trucks. Despite TSC's attempt to discredit the ATA report, anecdotal evidence garnered by law enforcement in a national FMCSA truck safety campaign seems to support the trucking industry's assertion that dangerous driving around big rigs is a commonplace practice for four-wheelers. FMCSA began its Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) program in 2004. In TACT programs in around the country, state highway enforcement officers ride in the cab of a truck to watch for four-wheelers cutting off, tailgating or performing other unsafe maneuvers around big rigs. The troopers inside the truck will contact nearby patrolling officers who then swoop in and pull over the offending motorist. States have regularly reported pulling over and ticketing more than 100 four-wheelers for unsafe driving around big rigs within any given four-hour observation period. If one trooper can spot more than 100 unsafe car maneuvers around big rigs in a short four-hour period, it stands to reason that four-wheelers are the major culprits in truck-car crashes. The balance of citations issued by the Washington State Patrol's TACT program last December further support which are the safer drivers. Washington state's December campaign netted 286 car drivers and only 23 commercial vehicle driver citations for aggressive driving. Allowing any and all truck-involved accidents impact a carrier's CSA Score can obviously be costly to truckers.

In a recent story in Overdrive magazine, readers added their voices to the chorus calling for FMCSA to reevaluate CSA's impact on trucking business. One fleet executive said his company has lost more than $1.5 million in the past year because of CSA Score problems.

In any case, TSC is picking nits on this issue. What the trucking industry is asking for is for government to not ruin a trucking operation's safety record as a result of accidents such as those cited at the beginning of this story where it's a no-brainer that the trucker was not responsible.

That's not too much to ask, especially when you consider the economic impact a negative safety record can have on a motor carrier.

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