Failure of CSA illustrated in the records of applicants to the Cross Border Pilot Program with Mexico

By | 24/05/2013

P1000586 (Small)A week ago, a press release was sent out by a coalition opposed to Mexican trucking in the United States. The presser contained nothing new, just more babble to scare the hell out of an uninformed public who neither worries about nor cares that a handful of carefully screened, closely monitored Mexican carriers are being allowed operational authority into the US. And it’s nothing new. Mexican carriers have had authority to operate on our highways for more than 60 years.

Fortunately, the press release didn’t have it’s intended affect. It appears to have been largely ignored, as it should have been.

The claim was that the “U.S. DOT [was] ALLOWING UNSAFE MEXICO-DOMICILED TRUCK COMPANIES TO PARTICIPATE IN NAFTA PILOT PROGRAM THREATENING SAFETY OF MOTORISTS” which could not have been further from the truth. They based this upon data from a program called CSA (Compliance – Safety – Accountability). Within this framework is something FMCSA calls it’s Safety Measurement System or SMS. The SMS provides an assessment of a motor carrier’s on-road performance and investigation results within the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs) The “BASICS” include 5 subgroups that are available to the public.

  1. Unsafe Driving
  2. Hours of Service (HOS) Compliance
  3. Driver Fitness
  4. Controlled Substances and Alcohol
  5. Vehicle Maintenance

Consistently, all the applicants applying for to participate in the Cross Border Pilot Program with Mexico are coming in with extremely high scores in categories 3 and 5 giving those who irrationally oppose Mexican trucks something to point their finger at and make the erroneous claims as they did in the press release.

Yes! 99.5% SMS score in the Driver Fitness BASIC is outrageous and cause for concern as is a 95.7% score in the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC if you take it at face value and don’t do your homework.

FMCSA had their heart in the right place most likely when they came up with this dismal failure called CSA, but they rushed it through without much thought to the consequences, testing it with large mega carriers before forcing it onto the trucking industry at large.

Even Bill Quade, FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement acknowledged problems with the system when he said in a recent interview with Overdrive Magazine’s Todd Dills.

“I understand the data’s not perfect, but I don’t see a good alternative that we can implement in the political realities of the day. Furthermore, hiding the data would take investigators off the road and into our [Freedom of Information Act] office to deal with the requests,” an ultimate detriment to safety.

 

Jeff Tucker, head of the Tucker Company Worldwide brokerage, questioned the public usefulness of the scores in total. “I am struggling tremendously with what to do with the data right now” in his business, he said. It’s usefulness outside of the purposes of law enforcement and motor carriers, he suggested, was little.

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) even agrees that the SMS data is so much garbage as evidenced in a second lawsuit they recently filed on behalf of a member. OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer was quoted in the notice of the lawsuit against CSA as saying,

“How can this system be considered to have any integrity if it is above the law of the land and purposely fails to be accurate? It certainly can’t possibly make roads safer.”

Yet the hypocrisy of Spencer and OOIDA’s position in this is made clear by the statement he made in the press release by the coalition opposed to the Mexican carriers.

“It’s blatantly clear that the only entities truly pushing for opening the border are big businesses
in the United States seeking to force small business truckers to forfeit their own economic
opportunities. FMCSA’s  actions show that they are following an agenda for large economic
interests and are determined to accept a significantly lower standard for trucks from Mexico than
what they apply to those in the U.S. This altogether means compromised highway safety and
loss of U.S. jobs,” said Todd Spencer, Executive Vice President of the Owner-Operator
Independent Drivers Association.

 

Of course, Spencer’s latter statement was made with a snarky snicker in his voice that is always present when he makes misrepresentations about Mexican trucks and the Cross Border Program.

So what’s it to be? CSA is bad for US and Canadian carriers but the data contained within concerning Mexican carriers is to be absolute and trustworthy because it shows the Mexicans in the light that opponents want others to see them? You can’t have it both ways.

HOW DO THE SCORES GET TO THIS POINT AND IS THERE AN ALTERNATIVE MEASUREMENT?

The scores represented in each carriers SMS profile, in the 5 BASICS are derived from commercial vehicle inspections, whether it be at roadside during a traffic stop or at a fixed and permanent weighing and inspection station. This effects all motor carriers operating in the US, whether they be US, Canadian or Mexico domiciled carriers.

The large mega carriers seem to be being ignored and passed over for inspection while smaller carriers, those with 200 trucks or fewer, including owner operators are being targeted more frequently for inspections according to some reports from OVERDRIVE and the Commercial Carrier Journal. In the case of Mexican carriers, most of whom are commercial zone operators, they are subject to be inspected each and every time they cross the US Mexico border which can be as many as 4 times daily for some.

In Texas, probable cause for an inspection can be anything or nothing. On the road, a mudflap “flopping” too high is a good enough excuse for a trooper to pull a trucker over and do a walk around. Finding nothing else, the trooper will write a “warning” on the inspection report for the mud flap (yes, they can find a violation of 392. for that) and send you on your way. Or perhaps they see a piece of reflective tape on the trailer “torn”. That’s a violation of 393.11 and 3 points on your SMS. And you can’t fight these “warnings”. There is no “due process” as there is when a citation is issued.  So the score continue to mount up and in a short time, you see scores in the 90+% range, well above the intervention threshold.

For the Mexican carriers, the applicant to the Cross Border Pilot Program, they’re further at risk of achieving an SMS score that in no way reflects their true safety status.

A good example is in the extremely high DRIVER FITNESS scores for the carriers mentioned in the coalitions press release. In the case of one carrier with a score of 99.4%, they had 1297 violations of 391.11.(b)(2), the English proficiency rule, which is an Out of Service item. Yet not one was put OOS. and why should they be? They operate within the commercial zones of Texas where everyone, law enforcement included is bi-lingual. Could it be that the Mexican operators are getting tagged for this, not as a safety issue, which it is not along the border, but as a mechanism for the enforcement agencies to rack up data they can take to Washington D.C. when it comes time to beg for more appropriations?

“Hey Senator! We got a problem down here and need another <insert amount here in millions of $$> to address it”. Sort of like Pinal County Arizona Sheriff Paul Babeu begging for money to buy Israeli Gurka urban assault vehicles and Blackhawk helicopters to secure his country from a mythical invasion from Mexico, but you get the point.

Other evidence of this can be seen in the Mexican carriers VEHICLE MAINTENANCE BASIC where if you look closely, the majority of violations are for lighting issues, reflective tape missing or damaged or a Texas favorite, “chafing airlines”, the chafing in many cases occurring from the inspectors thumbs “chafing” the dirt on an under trailer air hose assembly. Others, such as write ups for cracked frames, broken suspension parts and bald tires, all out of service violations, are noted but the trucks and drivers are not put out of service. Does this mean the Mexicans are receiving special treatment? Not at all. An out of service violation is accompanied by a citation and that is where the “due process” kicks in. You can’t fight the warning and the inspectors do not have to prove the violation. Your word against theirs and you know how that goes.

THE ALTERNATIVE

How do you rate the safety and fitness of a carrier? I’ll tell you how I do it. By looking at their Out of Service rates for both drivers and vehicles and at their accident rate, all available from within the SMS screens. Forget the SMS scores. They’re meaningless and I believe eventually will be revamped or discarded altogether.

A good example is the three Mexican applicants to the Cross Border Program with Mexico mentioned in the coalitions press release.

RAM TRUCKING and affiliate carrier Zaro Transportation. RAM being a new entrant, has no recorded SMS data to date and the coalition bases their objections upon Zaros scores.

In 24 months prior to April 21, 2013, Zaro had 243 inspections resulting in an OOS rate of 6% for the drivers and 15% for the vehicles. They had a total of 3 crashes, non fatal. The national OOS rate for the US is 20.72% for vehicles and 5.51% for drivers. Zaro has 19 vehicles involved in cross border drayage based in Laredo Texas.

Transportes Monteblanco SA DE CV. Out of 102 drive inspections, they have a 0% driver OOS rate, a 9.09% OOS for the vehicles. They are operating in the United States participating in the Cross Border Pilot Program.

And finally, Servicio De Transporte Internacional y Local SA DE CV. These folks scare the hell out of opponents to cross border trucking because they bring 20 units and 13 drivers into the program which will go a long way into helping FMCSA reach their goal of a statistically valid pool of participants. This carrier is also the one who has been hammered with almost 1300 violations of the English Proficiency rule against their commercial zone drivers. Servicio de Transporte Internacional  also has offices all across Mexico from Matamoros to Cd. Juarez. How does their realistic safety stats stack up?

 

In 24 months, they’ve had 7,899 inspections. Of these, 0% of drivers were put Out of Service. Only 9% of the vehicles inspected were placed Out of Service. and there were only 4 total crashes. 4 crashes in 24 months.  Again, to remind you, the national OOS rate for the US is 20.72% for vehicles and 5.51% for drivers. And these are some of the carriers that OOIDA, TEAMSTERS, CRASH and others deem unsafe to operate on US highways?

What this points to is the dismal failure of CSA to provide any demonstrable accurate evidence to profile a motor, regardless of national domicile and the hypocrisy of the groups who fight against CSA in the Courts and in the media yet turn around the next moment and use SMS data as a basis for objecting to Mexican carriers.

 

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This post is part of the thread: Mexico Cross Border Pilot Program – an ongoing story on this site. View the thread timeline for more context on this post.

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