The public can no longer see safety scores, lawyers can still send FOIA requests
President Obama signed the Highway Transportation Bill on December 4, 2015. Within minutes, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) removed from public view much of the agency’s information regarding trucking companies’ Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores.
Within the CSA program is the Safety Measurement System (SMS), which measures the safety performance of motor carriers. The data is helpful in identifying specific safety problems that a motor carrier or exhibits, monitors whether safety problems are improving or worsening, and identifies motor carriers who are candidates for intervention. The FMCSA collects and interprets the data, and the motor carriers then receive a score and a percentile ranking when compared to other transport companies across the country.
The new legislation includes a provision (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST), which mandated that the FMCSA review the CSA program and, during that review period, remove the scores from public view. The new legislation challenged the FMCSA to ensure its CSA scoring program provides “the most reliable” analysis that it possibly can.
Said the FMSCA via a written statement, “While the agency is not prohibited from displaying all of the data, no information will be available for property carriers while appropriate changes are made. This also applies to information provided to the public through the QCMobile app.” Note that the QCMobile app was an important first step in preventing crashes, as past truck accidents and safety violations are a strong predictor of future wrecks.
Still, all is not completely lost for safety advocates and accident attorneys. Although the CSA scores are removed for property carriers, passenger carriers, such as bus companies, may still have their CSA scores accessed by the general public.
The FMSCA stated that all of the information on passenger carriers remains available, and enforcement users and motor carriers can view safety data by using their login information.
Why blocking commercial vehicle safety scores from the public is a terrible idea
The problem with this is there is now no way for a member of the general public to view CSA safety scores of trucking companies.
This threatens the safety of all of us and is a challenge to good trucking companies, load brokers, and/or shippers, who want to select safe trucking companies to haul their property loads instead of companies that have caused too many wrecks and have received too many safety violations.
This is not protecting the public. This is caving in to the powerful truck and transportation lobby. The powerful trucking lobby has argued for years that CSA data paints an erroneous picture of most carriers’ safety records, and a Government Accountability Office report harshly criticized the agency CSA methodology. For instance, here’s a statement from American Trucking Associations (ATA) Executive Vice President and Chief of National Advocacy Dave Osiecki:
“By ordering an evaluation and improvement of CSA, as well as removing the flawed scores the system produces from public view in the meantime, this bill is an important victory for data and accuracy in regulatory oversight.”
The ATA, of course, is a huge trucking lobby and special interest group.
Instead of the ATA taking on the issue of preventing truck accidents by going after dangerous trucking companies who knowingly violate mandatory safety rules, they’re more interested in protecting these bad apples (bad apples that kill innocent people and cause catastrophic injuries on our roads).
This new legislation just gives those dangerous trucking companies who consistently break the rules an opportunity to conceal their dangerous behavior and disregard for safety.
But safety advocates, such as myself – as a Michigan Lawyers Weekly Leader in the Law for my own lobbying efforts on this issue – and other truck accident lawyers, have contended that CSA scores offer reliable crash-preventing information. Here’s an interesting dialogue I had with one truck company safety director recently, ironically just days before I was off to speak on the subject of CSA safety scores at an advanced legal seminar on truck litigation.
Important tip for truck accident attorneys
Lawyers who are litigating truck accident cases can still obtain this information about trucking companies involved in their injury cases. Now, lawyers can FOIA the FMCSA. The FOIA will not give you back the old CSA scores, it just gives you back the actual interventions and violations. Still, that should be sufficient for Michigan lawyers who are contemplating whether to add additional legal counts for negligent entrustment, negligent supervision, negligent monitoring, and other theories of liability, as well as perhaps still pursue load broker and shipper negligent selection cases.
This unfortunately will make it significantly harder for attorneys to find out if a carrier is above the FMCSA intervention threshold or not. Also, it makes it more difficult to identify if there are major company deficiencies in safety, and where specifically (ie. safe driving versus maintenance, etc.).
For help, take a look at this template that we use in our trucking cases.