Federal safety rules get shippers’ attention | nnbusinessview.com

Federal safety rules get shippers’ attention

John Seelmeyer
jseelmeyer@nnbw.biz

Bennie Gamble, the Nevada vice president for Devine Intermodal, is accustomed to answering questions from potential customers about prices and delivery times.

But today, he’s fielding a new set of questions spurred by the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program launched three years ago by the federal Department of Transportation.

“Our existing and potential customers routinely ask for our CSA scores,” says Gamble. “Safety is gaining importance to our clientele, as it should be.”

The centerpiece of CSA is the federal Safety Measurement System, which analyzes all safety-based violations from inspections and crash data.

“We talked to a customer in California who had a driver, just one driver who was out of compliance and the violation cost the company a million dollars.”
Norma Havens-Belknap

From that data, the federal agency determines on-road safety performance, both for trucking companies and individual drivers, and posts their scores online.

The federal agency says the scorekeeping has allowed it to identify unsafe carriers and drivers more quickly so that it can begin corrective measures such as increased inspections.

The Safety Management System also gets attention from the folks who contract with trucking customers, and trucking executives such as Gamble say that safety scores are becoming a bigger deal.

Norma Havens-Belknap, who sells GPS monitoring service to trucking companies through Reno-based Fleet Solutions, says horror stories abound in the trucking industry.

“We talked to a customer in California who had a driver, just one driver who was out of compliance and the violation cost the company a million dollars,” says Havens-Belknap. “Not because of fines, but because his customers look at the CSA scores and violations when they are making decisions about who to book their shipping with. He lost a million dollars in business over a year because one driver hurt his scores.”

Here’s what potential customers can see when they input a trucking company’s DOT number into the federal agency’s Web site:

The agency allows the public to see five measures — scores on unsafe driving, compliance with hours-of-service rules, results of federal inspections of drive fitness, vehicle maintenance and compliance with drug and alcohol regulations.

The record during the past two years for one northern Nevada trucking company, for instance, showed the company ranked in the top 20 percent nationwide for safe driving, the top 16 percent for hours-of-service compliance and the top 13 percent for vehicle maintenance. The company didn’t have enough driver inspections to earn a score and it didn’t have any drug-and-alcohol violations.

Customers of trucking companies are interested in safety scores for more than mere good citizenship.

Some shippers worry about their liability if they hire a trucking company with a demonstrated record of unsafe operations, and a $23.8 million court judgment in Illinois continues to send shivers down the backs of shippers and truckers alike.

In that case, a freight broker in Minnesota was held responsible for a fatal accident involving a trucking company it had hired. Unwilling to rely solely on contracts that indemnify them from claims against a trucking company, freight brokers, third-party logistics companies and shippers increasingly are paying close attention to CSA scores before they sign contracts.

The trend also is creating opportunity for companies such as Fleet Solutions.

Havens-Belknap says the company sells its GPS systems as a tool that trucking companies can use to monitor driver performance and generate better data for in-house safety efforts.

She says that large trucking companies were early adopters of the technology, but mid-sized and smaller companies sometimes were scared off by their fears of big upfront costs.

With growing competitive pressures driven by CSA scores, Havens-Belknap says smaller firms are making the investment.

Researchers have found, however, that another fear of trucking companies — that CSA scores would further limit the pool of drivers, worsening labor shortages — apparently hasn’t come to pass.

“CSA failed to have a negative impact on hiring qualified driving following implementation in 2010,” found researchers at the Center for Intermodal Freight Transportation Studies at the University of Memphis.

On the other hand, the researchers note that there’s no way of telling how many more drivers the industry might have hired if the CSA rules weren’t in place.


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