Upcoming SafeStat Changes Sound Good, but the Devil is in the Details
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) SafeStat Web site is a valuable resource for truck accident attorneys. By simply logging on, a lawyer investigating a truck crash can access the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) “snapshot” assessment of a particular motor carrier’s regulatory compliance. This information is so valuable that the lawyers and insurance companies defending catastrophic injury truck accident cases have lobbied – successfully – for changes to prevent plaintiff truck accident lawyers from accessing all of the site’s data.
The government is now making major revisions to SafeStat; changes that will both enhance and restrict its usefulness for truck accident attorneys, the media, insurance companies and consulting firms. The result will be “Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010” (CSA 2010), a similar Web-based online resource used to identify any and all at-risk behavior conducted by potentially dangerous truck companies and truck drivers. It will be launched in 2010.
Michigan Truck Accident Lawyer’s Take on CSA 2010
So, what’s the difference between CSA 2010 and SafeStat? According to the government, the information found within CSA 2010 will now be based upon a more broad range of criteria, and its accuracy will be less likely called into question. Ironically, the defense bar’s outcry against our truck accident lawyers’ use of the “unreliable” SafeStat system has led to the creation of another publicly accessible program that will display greater amounts of potentially damaging information about dangerous trucking companies in Michigan and throughout the United States.
Not much is known about the contents of CSA 2010 as of now. The DOT has only supplied a brief one page fact sheet on what to expect from the new system. However, it’s clear the FMCSA plans to completely replace our current understanding of the SAFER Web method in grading at-risk motor carriers. SAFER is another FMCSA site that offers company safety data and related services to industry and the public by searching FMCSA databases.
Under the current SAFER system, a motor carrier is either listed as:
o Satisfactory — compliant with regulations,
o Conditional — in violation of regulations but may continue to operate, or
o Unsatisfactory — substantial noncompliance.
Currently there are more than 1,000 bad trucking companies in Michigan that are listed as having either conditional or unsatisfactory safety ratings. However, under CSA 2010, the new grading system will be a traffic light style approach to evaluation, where motor carriers will be classified as:
o Green — continue to operate,
o Yellow — marginal/ongoing intervention, or
o Red — unfit to operate.
While green and red remain substantially similar to the current system, the yellow/marginal grade will involve greater FMCSA scrutiny with a motor carrier’s day-to-day operations, through targeted roadside inspections, focused off- and on-site investigations, development of cooperative safety plans and corrective consent agreements.
CSA 2010 will also implement a new safety measurement system called BASIC: Behavioral Analysis Safety Improvement Categories, which will monitor reports on unsafe driving, truck driver fatigue, driver fitness, controlled substance/alcohol use, vehicle maintenance, improper cargo loading, and crash data. Based on a carrier’s score through BASIC, the FMCSA will be able to classify a carrier as green, yellow or red. Essentially, there will be much more reported information available to the general public regarding a motor carrier’s overall safety compliance through the BASIC monitoring system.
Problems with New Truck Safety Monitoring System
The major problem with the FMCSA’s emphasis on greater investigation and reporting with CSA 2010 is that it depends on a vast amount of human resources from state agencies that are already reeling and being scaled back under the weight of our current recession. As experienced truck accident attorneys and law enforcement officers will tell you, the numbers under the current system and CSA 2010 are most likely only the tip of the iceberg.
States like Michigan, with transportation budgets that are essentially bankrupt, cannot hope to reasonably keep up with the increase in investigation and reporting protocols needed to adequately supply the information the FMCSA hopes to obtain for CSA 2010. The issue is further complicated for states like Michigan that prohibit verdicts for punitive damages against even the most reckless trucking companies that make little or no effort to comply with federal safety regulations. Sure, these companies will have to pay the policy limits for the injuries or deaths they cause, but that’s always after it’s too late, and without any “big stick” to stop them from committing the same injustice again and again, until the next time someone is injured or killed.
There’s no doubt that the implementation of CSA 2010 will be an improved source of information for truck accident lawyers. However, the lack of enforcement, combined with an outright prohibition against punitive damages some states, gives the worst commercial trucking carriers zero incentive to do the right thing.
— Photo courtesy of Creative commons, by Tomsaint11