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Data collection and fault analysis in big rig truck accidents

In recent letter to Department of Transportation employees, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood outlined that he will step down from his position. During his time with the agency, LaHood has taken steps to curb distracted driving, improve the nation’s roadways and focus on safety measures.

One of safety initiative that the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has spearheaded seeks to improve commercial truck safety and reduce the number of big rig truck accidents nationwide and in California. The Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program started two years ago and collects data that major truck carriers can use to improve their safety records.

In the last year alone, traffic to the agency’s CSA website increased 167 percent, according to FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. The agency notes that violations at roadside inspections have dropped by eight percent and driver violations have decreased by 10 percent. Ferro stated that, “these represent the most dramatic decrease in violation rates in a decade.”
What does the CSA track?

The program tracks various categories of trucking violations. Adding to a typical agency alphabet soup, violations are categorized into Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC). Thus, there are BASICs that track fatigued driving, vehicle maintenance and HazMat compliance, just to name a few.

CSA has changed the way that trucking carriers do business and moved safety to the forefront of priorities. Carriers can use the CSA data to improve fleet safety through training and driver education. CSA, along with a new Pre-employment Screening program, has also changed hiring practices by screening out undesirable drivers.
Complaints about the program

While the agency has made several tweaks to the program in the two years since its rollout, some complain that data is not uniformly collected and may not accurately reflect crash risk.

For instance, the Safety Measurement System does rate a carrier’s crash history compared with the history of other carriers. But many in the industry argue that the rank assumes past crashes are an indicator of future crashes without taking into account who was at fault. A carrier ranking might suffer even if a drunk driver crashes into a tractor-trailer when there is no assignment of fault.

In practice, the agency does not have a framework in place to assign fault in crashes and relies on objective data points gleaned through increased inspections. However, past practices or violations noted for a specific carrier could come into play when reviewing who was at fault in an accident. If a specific carrier had a record of vehicle maintenance issues that could be important in uncovering the cause of a current accident.

In its first two years, CSA has increased dialogue around the issue of truck safety. Fewer violations show that it is also influencing behavior. While trucking safety is a priority, accidents can still occur. If you were injured in an accident involving an 18-wheeler, contact an experienced attorney to discuss the individual circumstances of what occurred.

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