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An advanced look at CSA 2010: it shouldn’t be a mystery
Friday, 11 December 2009 00:00

Don’t worry, be happy? There’s nothing to fear but fear itself? Take two aspirin and call me in the morning?

I wish I knew what to say to carriers anxious about the way the federal government is about to start grading them—and I’m a little puzzled as to why there’s the whiff of fear in the air.

As we’ve covered in The Trucker for a couple of years, the soon-to-be-here Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 Initiative (CSA 2010) is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s new system to collect, process and utilize carrier safety data, and it’s designed to pick up where the current SafeStat system seems to have come up short.

Namely, the industry regulator wants to keep up with everyone a little bit better, rather than just coming down hard on the small fraction of carriers that really get their attention.

CSA 2010 is currently being tested in a handful of pilot states, and FMCSA has regularly held informational sessions around the country to get truckers’ input and answer questions.

Simply, the new system shouldn’t be a mystery.

But as I learned at a recent meeting of carrier managers from around the country, there’s still a lot of uncertainty out there—and these were serious, informed folks who traveled to a national convention.

So I have no doubt that when that first CSA 2010 report card hits the desk, more than a few truckers with their own DOT authority are going to wonder when the government started taking “the little things,” or non-out-of-service violations, so seriously.

And drivers, you need to be aware as well.

Your carrier will get a rating on your performance, and the safety rating of a fleet’s drivers goes into the FMCSA computer that spits out the monthly grades: “continue to operate,” “marginal,” or “unfit.” And there’s only one grade that safety managers—and the big bosses—are going to want to see. (If you want the finer details, they’re on the FMCSA Web site—or read our coverage as the system rolls out in the coming months.)

Many truckers, I suspect, are worried because they just don’t know what to expect: folks are generally afraid of change. For those carriers whose SafeStat scores are on the wrong side of the safety deficiency mark, FMCSA will likely be getting in touch with some suggestions. It may be a letter, or a phone call, but you’ll have some explaining to do about the particular problems CSA 2010 has identified.

But what if you’re a carrier that runs safe, and has the SafeStat rating to show for it—or at least has never had a regulator show up for a compliance audit? Well, congratulations and thank you. But you’ll be getting regular grades, too.

Here’s the thing many truckers seem confused about: the safety rules and regs aren’t changing, though the way the data is evaluated will be different. All a carrier has to do is look at his data right now and do the CSA 2010 math.

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Which is why I liked the look of a new report offered by a company called Vigillo. I don’t want this to be a commercial, but I do find their CSA 2010 Preview Scorecard noteworthy—and since their preview is the first I’ve seen, and since they willingly answered my questions, they get their name in paper.

Vigillo founder and CEO Steve Bryan said the software company was established in 2007 when he discovered trucking to be just the niche he was looking for: a highly regulated industry for which his team could develop compliance management software.

And, after a year of working with truckers, Bryan said he’s discovered that “what keeps people up at night” is safety.

“There are mountains and mountains of data that is collected about fleets, from FMCSA to Qualcomm, to back-office applications, just a multitude of sources,” he said, and Vigillo’s product puts it all together in organized, easy-to-understand performance reports. “Fleets wanted to know, ‘how can we understand where our problems are, what are the things that are causing us pain, that we can’t see because we don’t analyze our data well?’”

The company, which contracts with carriers based on the number of drivers, now has a client headcount of nearly a quarter-million.

So it was a logical step to take the FMCSA data and “re-present it” in the new CSA 2010 format, Bryan explained.

“Give us your DOT number and we’ll pull down your data. Bingo, here’s what you will look like under CSA 2010 when the switch gets thrown,” he said. “It will give you six or eight months out front to start to address problems, so that you’re not stunned and surprised.”

The value is in the “preview” aspect of the CSA 2010 scorecard, according to the company—since FMCSA eventually will be presenting the data itself—and, uniquely, in the “actionable” presentation, a format that offers at-a-glance rankings for drivers and vehicles, as well as the CSA 2010 safety improvement categories.

“We frequently hear that our customers struggle [with all the data] because they have a thousand drivers,” Bryan said. “But it’s rare that they have a thousand-driver problem. What they probably have is a 10- driver problem that drags the score down and creates most of the risk.”

It’s one thing to rank a company’s own rigs or drivers, but a big part of CSA 2010 is comparing carriers to one another—and Vigillo doesn’t have the full body of data that FMCSA will employ. So how does their scorecard come up with the critical percentile rankings?

In addition to having “an ongoing dialogue” with FMCSA and receiving some aggregate data, Bryan said the company has clients who are based in CSA 2010 pilot states, meaning they already receive the official reports.

“We’re doing some reverse-engineering: we’re software guys and that’s what we do best,” Bryan said. “So we run our pilot-state customer numbers and hold them up to the known numbers, and we’re awfully close on our estimates.”

Fair enough. So Vigillo offers one option for carriers wanting to get a peek at how FMCSA will see them when CSA 2010 rolls out in the next year or so.

Still, any image in the statistical mirror shouldn’t come as a surprise. As carriers and drivers you should know from what you see in your own mirrors every day, whether you run safely. And as long as you do, CSA 2010 won’t be an issue. If you don’t, CSA 2010 is designed to help—before it’s too late.  

TheTrucker.com, 12/11/2009