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Transportation Expert: CSA Reduces Crashes, but Increases Vicarious Liability

March 15, 2012

A University of Michigan study recently concluded that the Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) initiative launched by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has done its job — making the highways safer. But, it has come with some unintended consequences, according to a former FMCSA inspector.

Rick Gobbell, who is now president of Gobbell Transportation Safety LLC, told attendees during Sylectus' recently concluded 9th Annual User Group Conference in Kissimmee, Fla., that while there has been a 30% decrease in fatal large vehicle crashes, of those crashes two-thirds are not the fault of the commercial truck drivers involved.

Gobbell said that the CSA has made safety compliance more difficult and has raised insurance rates and the specter of vicarious liability to a new, higher level for truck fleets. According to Gobbell, who worked as a highway safety inspector for several local and federal agencies and investigated hundreds of truck crashes during his 36-year career, there are a number of reasons why CSA could fuel vicarious liability actions. Among the most prevalent is that of those companies audited, 35% fail the "very subjective" audits, Gobbell told the several hundred attendees of the conference, which attracted truck fleet owners from all over the country.

Complicating matters in terms of vicarious liability, the BASIC "golden triangles" posted by the FMCSA on its website — which can range from warnings to citations — are part of the public record and may not be related to the BASIC score description, but label the company as unsafe. If a company receives two of these triangles in two months, it triggers an automatic audit, which can take several weeks to complete.

Gobbell also criticized the CSA as not having an adequate due process. In many cases, fleets are dismissing drivers even if they only receive a warning — fueling the ongoing driver shortage.

While the University of Michigan study, which was paid for by the FMCSA, concluded that CSA was a benefit, Gobbell noted that a more recent Wells Fargo Study found "no correlation between the CSA scores and crashes."

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