Overregulated: FMCSA’s “Compliance, Safety, Accountability” (CSA) Program and Revised “Hours-Of-Service” (HOS) Restart Rules

Impact:  These provisions threaten to sideline good truck drivers and to make small carriers uncompetitive. To the extent that they reduce trucking capacity without significantly advancing safety, both CSA and HOS will impose large but unquantifiable new costs on the wood supply chain’s biggest cost component: transportation.

CSA:  The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Compliance, Safety, Accountability” program’s scoring system, which demerits both fleets and drivers based on reports provided by state enforcement officials, provides a “BASIC” score, displayed for insurance companies, shippers, attorneys, and others to view, as a means of assessing possible safety exposures. Because scoring criteria vary widely, due to different jurisdictions’ enforcement emphases, the relationship of scores to actual crash risk is obscure. Yet these high scores, unjustified by actual crash risk, may result in

  • drivers’ being penalized (or becoming unemployable) with high insurance rates and
  • shippers’ avoiding carriers with high BASIC scores.

Some forest products companies, moreover, observe that enforcement officials who have other reasons for disfavoring certain forms of business may single out those businesses’ trucks for extra scrutiny.

Status:  The five-year Highway Bill (“FAST Act”) signed into law on December 4, 2015, contains terms calling for CSA “BASIC” scores based on incidents for which the driver was not at fault to be removed from publicly available databases while the National Research Council reviews the program and until NRC’s final report is delivered “and deficiencies have been addressed.”

HOS-Restart:  The revised Hours-Of-Service “Restart” rule, finalized in 2013 following nearly a decade of court challenges, limits opportunities for flexibility in driver and haul scheduling, both for long- and short-haul trucking. The (currently suspended) 34-hour “Restart” provision, with its requirement for a minimum of two consecutive nights off-duty, proved especially difficult for driver scheduling and avoiding traffic congestion.

Status:  In late 2014, Congress accepted an amendment to the Appropriations Omnibus to suspend the HOS-Restart provision pending completion of a study to evaluate FMCSA’s methodology, to be completed by September 30, 2015. Trucking interests reviewed the study plan and found that the study was largely overlooking the impacts of the Restart provision on short-haul drivers, whose scheduling it impacts; and communicated these concerns to FMCSA.

On June 9, 2015, the House approved the Transportation, Housing & Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations bill, including the THUD Committee’s recommendation to continue the HOS-Restart suspension indefinitely unless the study’s final report demonstrates “statistically significant improvement in all outcomes related to safety, operator fatigue, driver health and longevity, and work schedules.” (See FRA-endorsed letter to House Appropriators.)

The Omnibus Appropriations bill passed in mid-December 2015 included that provision, effective on the date of the bill’s signing. However, an omission in the Appropriations rider’s text has created uncertainty. By DOT’s reading, a negative or indecisive outcome of the study would suspend the entire Restart provision, not just the restrictions—depriving truckers and dispatchers of a valuable tool for accounting for available hours. FRA and other trucking interests have obtained the endorsement of both Senate and House Appropriations Committees for a compromise to protect the Restart, although as of July 1, 2016, final floor votes on the Committees’ recommendations had not been scheduled.