Voluntary safety programs: Enforcement weighs in

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A Beyond Compliance pilot pogram would address questions such as what types of safety solutions should be eligible, how should they be evaluated, and what’s the proper government role in voluntary the process?

The roadside inspection piece of the truck safety puzzle is “tried and true,” so enforcement officials have been reluctant to change it even as the trucking industry continues to voice concerns about the way the government uses the inspection data in the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.

But, as Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) explains it, the Beyond Compliance initiative could lead to improved highway safety independently of any tinkering with established roadside practices. Indeed, such an incentive system could actually help inspectors better target the truly unsafe trucks on the road while also rewarding the trucking companies who do more than is required.

Keppler recently walked me through his organization’s thinking.

In a letter to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last fall, CVSA called for a pilot program to explore the possibilities of Beyond Compliance, saying such an incentive program could lead to “a positive sustained behavioral change” among carriers.

Broadly, a pilot would address questions such as what types of safety solutions should be eligible, how should they be evaluated, and what’s the proper government role in the process? While the letter was relatively recent, CVSA has been pondering the idea for several years, Keppler explains.

Not long after CSA went in effect in late 2010, trucking representatives approached CVSA about how difficult it is to improve their safety scores: Under the formula, only clean inspections and the passage of time will reduce a score.

So the industry wanted to make sure that “every single contact” an enforcement officer had with a carrier would be documented. But that’s easier said than done.

“There are a lot of screening activities that go on,” Keppler says. “To manage the queue at the scale house, sometimes officers will just do a quick check on licenses and documentation and send them on their way, and you’ve also got electronic programs to screen vehicles. So the industry wanted us to come up with a way document all that to help with CSA.”

A study group generated some options and a plan, but the CVSA executive committee didn’t support it.

“Not because the issue doesn’t have merit,” Keppler insists. “They understood the industry’s concerns. But the point they made was that the data and the CSA methodology shouldn’t drive enforcement. We should not be changing enforcement practices because of how CSA treats the data. That’s not our issue, that’s FMCSA’s issue.”

Indeed, as Keppler explains, the inspection program has been around for decades—since long before CSA.

“It’s tried, it’s true. It’s tested, it’s standardized,” he says. “Yes, we have our data issues, but by and large, we have a very good, strong, uniform program across the continent. You don’t want to start playing around with that.”

Instead, CVSA began to explore alternatives—and the alternative compliance concept was born.

“The best compliance is voluntary compliance,” Keppler says. “When you look at the safe fleets and the safe companies, they are proactive. Just because you comply with the regulations doesn’t mean you’re going to be safe—and the safe fleets know that.”

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