FMCSA Carrier Scoring System May Unfairly Punish Small Carriers

In 2010, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration introduced a new Comprehensive Safety Analysis program that drastically changed the way that individual owner-operators conduct their business.

The policies from the beginning of the decade ushered inRed truck a brand new, elevated level of strictness when it comes to federal safety inspections and requirements. According to Overdrive Online, the 2010 CSA mandates increased scrutiny in regards to log book precision, equipment condition, and medical certificates. Additionally, it is much harsher on drivers for receiving speed violations—or even warnings, for that matter.

The 2010 legislation was a major renovation in the world of trucking and transportation. The CSA’s predecessor, Safestat, demanded much less of drivers, limiting relevant factors to tickets, out-of-service violations, and crashes. The new regulations introduced a set of BASICs (Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories) that, when violated, result in intervention from the FMCSA.

Repercussions of the stringent 2010 policies were felt immediately. Large trucking corporations were forced to impose harsh punishments for what were previously considered minor penalties. Terminations and impositions of probationary periods skyrocketed within the transportation industry.

None, however, have felt the consequences stronger than independently contracted, owner-operators.

Small fleets have been up in arms ever since the new regulations were enforced in 2010, which made finding work substantially—and disproportionately—more difficult.

Here’s why:

Drivers now have a public Safety Measurement System profile and record, which is available to all prospective business partners. For drivers employed by large companies this is less consequential, for as long as they abide by their companies (albeit stricter) policies, they do not need to worry a great deal about how their SMS record looks, so long as they avoid major violations. For smaller, independently contracted drivers, however, the SMS profile is a much bigger deal, as they do not have a large organization with whom to share potential violations. This, in turn, accentuates negative marks on the records of owner-operators, disproportionately harming their careers and making future contracting very difficult. Small fleets are now being overlooked and passed up by brokers and shippers, causing a deal of frustration.

According to an Overdrive article, the 2013-2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that small fleets are exponentially more likely to receive an Unsafe Driving BASIC score than large fleets. What’s more, the GAO found that much of the data used to factor the scores in the Unsafe Driving BASICs are self-reported, and are therefore misleading or simply not true. Moreover, it has been found that there has not been a consistent correlation between highly penalized drivers and rate of crashes. So, small fleet drivers are remarkably fed up, as the system seems to be illogically punishing them, and ultimately failing in its mission to increase safety in the industry.

Bureaucrats and legislatures alike have been trying to ameliorate the situation, although their efforts have been received poorly by owner-operators, as they still fail to address the most prominent point of concern among drives—the public CSA SMS scores.  An Overdrive poll reveals that drivers overwhelmingly believe that the CSA’s top problem is the unreliable system of scoring the safety of very small fleets.

Small fleet owners are currently still advocating the removal of the public SMS scores. Hopefully, for their sake, politicians will be able to change the FMCSA’s safety demands and make the market more owner-operator-friendly.