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FMCSA getting closer to decision on CSA truck crash accountability

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 17th, 2013

FMCSA recently completed its analysis on changing the way  fault is documented in the CSA

truck driver fault in csa crash accountabilityThe Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently completed its analysis of crash accountability in semi-truck accidents. The work is currently being prepared for public release. In March, we discussed how the trucking lobby, specifically the American Trucking Associations (ATA), was trying to change the way truck crash accountability was recorded.

Currently, fault is not considered when the safety data is compiled in its CSA progam, which stands for Compliance, Safety, Accountability. A truck accident is documented against the motor carrier regardless of whether the truck driver is at fault, or another party is at fault.

Since the CSA initiative began in 2010, transportation interests have been battling over truck crash accountability. The FMCSA does not consider fault primarily because it is often difficult to ascertain who is at fault for causing a crash. There are scenarios where fault is not clear, or arguments can be made that the truck driver is at fault, or that some other party is at fault.

Safety advocates argue that all crashes, regardless of fault, are an accurate predictor of future truck accidents. Opponents and trucking interests argue that including non-fault truck crashes is illogical, and creates an inaccurate picture of a truck company’s safety record.

The FMCSA’s latest analysis was spurred by a previous ATA challenge to the CSA crash accountability reports. The agency entertained the trucking companies’ concerns in 2012, and nearly made changes in the system.  However, the agency ultimately backed away from the changes, citing the need to answer questions raised by safety advocates. The need to answer said questions directly resulted in the recently concluded analysis. An agency spokesperson, Marissa Padilla, confirmed that the agency is approaching a decision about this contentious issue, but could not provide a definite time frame for when a decision would be made.

The analysis focused on answering three questions:

  1. Are police accident reports reliable enough to determine accountability?
  2. Will a system that includes accountability be a better predictor of future safety than one that does not?
  3. And finally, how should the agency manage the process, giving the public a chance to participate?

As part of its analysis, the agency asked its civilian advisory board, the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC) to provide an opinion regarding the issue. The board has not issued an opinion yet, but it has released some information regarding the initiative. It seems that a key area of agreement is that the agency should make more of an effort to ascertain fault in a truck accident.

A draft of the MCSAC recommendation calls for the agency to look beyond police accident reports to other investigations which might shed light on the crash. These other investigations include: criminal reports, civil lawsuits or accident reconstruction reports.

The draft also suggests looking into the accuracy of police reports and the costs of the other fault assessment alternatives.

The majority of those who prepared the MCSAC draft agreed that when a crash is clearly not the truck driver’s fault, it should not be counted against the trucking company. The minority of the board embraced the current approach (which holds all crashes against the carrier notwithstanding fault).

As a truck accident lawyer and strong supporter of the current approach, I fear that changing the current method will allow bad truck companies to evade detection when they cut corners on safety and break the rules. Police reports could be misinterpreted or manipulated to conceal the truck company or truck driver’s misconduct.

And as a matter of mere practicality: What about the costs of changing the crash accountability methods? Can you imagine if the agency dumps resources into investigating every single truck accident to determine fault? That is a waste of time and money — both of which would be much better spent on improving safety and preventing crashes from happening in the first place.

Truck accident attorneys, such as myself, know that CSA data is a reliable prediction of a truck company’s propensity (or lack thereof) for safety. It paints an accurate picture of the company’s safety culture, and whether they put profit ahead of the safety of others. If the CSA crash accountability is changed, it will be a slap in the face of truck accident victims, their families, and to safety advocates like the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, who fight for their rights. But most importantly, it will be a serious blow to the transportation safety cause.

We can only wait and hope that the CSA data remains unchanged, and that good sense prevails. I will continue to follow up on the CSA crash accountability story as it develops.

Related information:

FMSCA talks truck industry concerns at Mid-America Trucking Show

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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