How CSA Is Impacting the Driver Pool, Driver Pay

June 4, 2013

In early 2003, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) began a multi-year process of developing its new safety measurement initiative now known as Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA).

The explicit purpose of CSA was to "improve large truck and bus safety to achieve a greater reduction in commercial motor vehicle crashes, injuries and fatalities.

Despite spending nearly a decade planning and developing CSA, FMCSA's formal outreach fell short of informing the industry exactly which aspects of operations CSA does and does not affect, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI).

As a result, in 2010, ATRI's Research Advisory Committee identified CSA as a top priority to investigate and the non-profit research arm of the American Trucking Assns. began a series of studies relating to CSA.

Truck drivers were surveyed by ATRI in the spring of 2011 and then again in the Spring of 2012 to gain perspective on how commercial drivers view CSA in terms of employability issues and carrier operations. The ATRI survey also evaluated drivers' attitudes toward CSA and general understanding of the program's key components, as well as how perceptions changed between CSA's first and second full years of measuring motor carrier and commercial driver performance.

Altogether, nearly 6,000 drivers were surveyed as part of ATRI's research, which uncovered some interesting discrepancies in perception versus reality on the driver impacts of the new safety system.

Effect on the Driver Pool

In advance of the nationwide rollout of CSA in late 2010, there was widespread concern that CSA's heightened safety measurement standards would disqualify hundreds of thousands of drivers.

All seven of CSA's BASICs either directly or indirectly measure driver behavior and/or compliance with safety regulations. Even the two BASICs that are not directly focused on the driver (Vehicle Maintenance and Cargo-Related) are impacted by a driver's performance.

Recognizing that previous research found that roughly 10% of drivers account for nearly half of all safety incidents, it was estimated that at least 10% of truck drivers would become unemployed once CSA went into effect.

ATRI's research found that two-thirds of current drivers are somewhat (37.7%) or extremely (29.1%) concerned that CSA will lead to their removal from the industry. Notably, ATRI notes, this level of fear among currently employed truck drivers did not change between 2011 and 2012 driver surveys.

Despite the high level of concern, however, ATRI's motor carrier surveys revealed that close to 90% of carriers have fired from zero to just 5% of their.

As for new applicant drivers, CSA, and specifically the Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP), has had a more dramatic impact, ATRI says.

Technically, PSP is a tool that is wholly separate from CSA, although the two programs do utilize the same type of data. Still, PSP has been a major factor in screening out a high percentage of driver applicants who may have previously received less scrutiny by moving from company to company following serious safety incidents.

Today, ATRI says, although employers do not inherit any of the historical safety infractions that were committed by new hires under another carrier's authority, PSP records attempt to reveal what type of future safety performance can be expected from applicants. Based on an appraisal of data, carriers are reluctant to hire those driver applicants they expect would harm the company's future CSA scores.

CSA and Driver Pay

With increased competition to hire and retain the drivers with the best safety records, it stands to reason that driver wages could be expected to increase as a result of implementing CSA. Midway through CSA's first year, between 77% and 93% percent of carriers still believed that CSA's elimination of unsafe drivers would result in increased wages for the remaining drivers, perhaps by as much as 10% or more in the coming year.

The expectations that driver wages would increase significantly due to CSA appear mostly unfounded. In fact, ATRI's analysis of operational costs showed a nominal increase (approximately 3%) in driver wages following CSA's national launch.

In ATRI's 2012 motor carrier survey, only 8.2% of carriers reported raising driver wages as a direct result of CSA and the vast majority (87.6%) refrained from raising direct pay. ATRI speculates this may partially be attributed to the fact that, after a full year of CSA measuring carrier and driver safety performance, the scenario of 10% to 20% of drivers becoming unemployable never materialized.

Still, there are some indications in ATRI's surveys that driver pay has indirectly benefited from CSA through non-traditional means, such as new safety-related financial incentives such bonuses for "clean" records. Among company driver respondents, nearly 24% claim to have benefited from these types of CSA-related financial incentives.

Driver Awareness Still Low

Based on responses to ATRI's surveys, truck drivers are wholly aware of the new safety and compliance data being used as part of CSA (and PSP). Despite this awareness, however, there seems to be a lasting reluctance to examining the data and/or scores. In 2011, fewer than half of drivers (43.8%) reported checking their respective employer's BASIC scores and, a year later, in 2012, that percentage has remained virtually unchanged (44.7%).

Surprisingly, drivers revealed even lower interest in accessing their own MCMIS data available through PSP. Since 2011, less than a third of drivers have taken the time to pull their records, although another 43% indicate an interest in eventually viewing this critical information that FMCSA and prospective employers look at when evaluating a driver's safety performance.

While not necessarily taking the expected step of viewing PSP records, other survey data collected by ATRI indicates drivers are extremely wary of the consequences that result from negative PSP information. Nearly 30% of drivers report that they have refused to operate poorly maintained trucks and/or have rejected faulty equipment or unsafe loads.

Additionally, 28% of drivers believe that hours-of-service (HOS) violations have decreased in frequency as a consequence of CSA's greater scrutiny, primarily as a result of drivers being less willing to break the rules. ATRI says this echoes previous analytic research that found dramatic decreases in driver violation rates in recent years (including a more than 50% decrease in the occurrence of false or no log book violations among roadside inspected drivers).

Driver and Fleet Views on Training Differ

ATRI also found there is a huge discrepancy between drivers and carriers about how much training and education fleets are offering drivers regarding CSA.

In 2011, 92% of carrier respondents were already claiming to offer training and education about CSA. However, truck drivers presented a vastly different message; only 59% of drivers reported receiving one or more training or education sessions in 2011, increasing slightly to 68% in the 2012 survey.

ATRI speculates the disparity between driver and carrier reports may be partially explained by respondents' varied interpretations of what represents CSA training. Its also likely, ATRI says, that a large number of small fleets may not have the resources to offer specific CSA training opportunities. Examining driver responses by fleet size reveals a higher percentage of drivers not receiving CSA training among smaller fleets.

Lack of Training Impacts Driver Understanding of CSA

The lack of driver training has a direct impact on driver understanding of CSA. Using a 14-question knowledge test, ATRI established a baseline of CSA comprehension among truck drivers in 2011. Out of the 14 questions, CMV drivers averaged only 5.71 correct responses, for less than 50% accuracy. One year later, in 2012, ATRI found driver knowledge to have improved by nearly one point to 6.55. In any case, it can be concluded that drivers, despite possessing strong opinions on CSA, remain largely under-informed surrounding the true details of the program, ATRI says.

ATRI's knowledge test was intended to test two areas of comprehension. First, half of the 14 items were designed to mirror the common myths that surrounded CSA's December 2010 national launch. Among the 2012 findings: - 84.5% of drivers understood that a carrier cannot remove violations from their CSA record simply by firing the responsible driver - 58.4% of drivers acknowledged that CSA does not take driver Body Mass Index (BMI) information into account - 56.9% of drivers realized that FMCSA cannot revoke a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) as a result of CSA - 50.5% of drivers acknowledged that CSA does not take a driver's personal vehicle driving record into account - Only 47.8% of drivers understood that the FMCSRs have not changed as a result of CSA - Only 37.1% of drivers understood that a trucking company does not inherit past violations from new hires - Only 21.9% of drivers recognized that traffic tickets/convictions are not part of FMCSA's SMS calculations

In addition to testing popular misconceptions, the other half of ATRI's knowledge test included seven items to evaluate comprehension of the technical details of CSA. To answer correctly, many of these questions required respondents to select all of an item's correct response options and none of the incorrect options. ATRI's 2012 findings revealed that: - 96% of drivers did not know that FMCSA enforcement staff are the only group of people who can access official driver scores - 92.4% of drivers could not correctly identify which 5 carrier BASIC scores are publicly available - 58.7% of drivers failed to recognize that CSA scores exceeding FMCSA's "alert" threshold are solely used to prioritize potentially at-risk carriers and should not be taken as an indication that a carrier is necessarily unsafe - 50.1% of drivers were unaware that past violations and crashes are weighted by both time and severity - 18.5% of drivers failed to realize that clean RIs actually improve driver and carrier CSA scores - 18.1% of drivers failed to realize that all violations, and not just out-of-service violations, count against drivers and carriers

Where the real CSA-related challenge exists for drivers is in fully understanding what CSA is and what it means in terms of their compliance. ATRI says drivers need to better understand what violations are used in CSA calculations, how those violations are used and who has access to driver data.

Furthermore, ATRI states, drivers need to understand the process for addressing incorrect information in the CSA system. While not part of ATRI's knowledge test, another area indicating lack of driver understanding of CSA is DataQs. Nearly one quarter (23.2%) of driver respondents have no knowledge that DataQs exists, and only 7.8% have used it to contest negative information believed to be in error.

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