A recent bill introduced by Congress aims to clarify and standardize best practices for hiring carriers, which would remove the assumption that Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program scores should be used in carrier hiring once and for all. The legislation, HR 1120, would require any shippers, brokers, 3PLs, forwarders, or receivers to take the following steps when hiring trucking companies (Fleet Owner).

  1. Confirm that the carriers are registered with and authorized to operate by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
  2. Ensure carriers have the minimum insurance coverage required by federal regulation.
  3. Check that carriers do not have an unsatisfactory safety fitness rating from FMCSA in force at the time of verification.

The requirements do not include any mention of the CSA program that was set in place in 2010—a program that’s often used to make judgments about trucking companies.

CSA’s ‘Dark Cloud’ Over Carrier Hiring

Under the CSA program, carriers earn scores in several safety categories, including unsafe driving, hours of service compliance, and vehicle maintenance. The program was designed to improve the efficiency of FMCSA’s enforcement and compliance program, help identify potentially unsafe carriers, and prioritize them for enforcement interventions (Inbound Logistics).

Though the program provides shippers and brokers with details on what to look for when hiring carriers, the scoring system has room for improvement. It’s difficult to determine what a good score is versus a bad one, so companies often have to design their own compliance thresholds without clear guidelines. Recently, pressure to make decisions on whether a carrier is “safe” based on CSA scores has increased because the scores are being used in lawsuits where carrier customers and their partners have been charged with negligent hiring practices (JOC). Standardizing regulations would help protect shippers and brokers from liability claims like this going forward.

Carriers are also being negatively affected by CSA scores. Chris Burroughs of the Transportation Intermediaries Association calls CSA a “dark cloud” that is “hurting carriers’ business.” The new bill would help alleviate this by removing the stigma among shippers, brokers, and the courts that CSA is an appropriate tool to use when hiring carriers (CCJ).

Taking it a Step Further

Many major trucking groups have been pushing to take this recent bill even further, asking lawmakers to remove CSA rankings from public view entirely until FMCSA can improve its data quality and methodology. Another bill, the Safer Trucks and Buses Act, was introduced in March to do just that. The legislation aims to restructure the program through the following tactics (CCJ).

  • Using only safety data that is predictive of carrier crashes, with a bigger emphasis on accuracy than before
  • Avoiding harm to small carriers as a result of limited safety data availability
  • Addressing differences between bus and truck companies

Whether these bills will turn into laws remains to be seen, but one thing is for certain: the current state of CSA and the threat of negligent hiring lawsuits are hurting the transportation industry. If passed, the legislation could help provide clarity to carrier customers, assist small trucking businesses throughout the U.S., and improve overall transportation safety.

In the Meantime

As transportation professionals continue to push for legislation around carrier hiring and improved CSA data, it’s important for all parties in the supply chain to continue to perform due diligence as it relates to transportation safety. In addition to ensuring carriers have a satisfactory safety fitness rating, below are some criteria we look for when partnering with the most safe and reliable carriers.

  • Signed contract in place prior to loading
  • Can provide 24/7 dispatch
  • Equipped with GPS tracking capabilities
  • Must have low claims ratio
  • Must be SmartWay certified