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Carriers file suit to stay CSA; want ratings shielded

WASHINGTON – A coalition of small carrier groups have launched a last-ditch effort to block parts of CSA 2010, the controversial new carrier safety measurement system set to take effect in a few days.

According to the Journal of Commerce, the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, The Expedite Alliance of North America and the Air & Expedited Motor Carriers Association, have filed a lawsuit in federal court to stay parts of CSA that releases carriers' safety scores – categorized in so-called BASICs -- to the public.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has already amended the rules so that Cargo-Related, as well as the Crash Indicator BASIC scores will be withheld from the public.

The agency acknowledged concerns from industry over crash reporting accuracy across various jurisdictions and the fact that FMCSA does not assign fault or preventability in reported crashes.

FMCSA also responded to carriers' concerns that pejorative language in CSA used to brand carriers who don't reach certain BASIC benchmarks can open them up to vicarious liability. The agency decided it would replace the term "deficient" with "alert" on its public website and insert disclaimer language cautioning against misuse of the scores.

While they don't object to CSA as an internal mechanism for targeting scofflaw truckers, the carrier groups, say the changes are not enough to prevent aggressive plaintiffs attorneys from misrepresenting the data against carriers in court.

They also say that publishing the rest of the BASIC safety ratings would cause "irreparable competitive and economic harm" if shippers blackballed the many drivers and small carriers who could underachieve at just one BASIC but be otherwise safe to operate.

Many operators, they say, would be forced out of the industry, sharply reducing capacity and, they say, increasing costs for shippers.

They are asking the court to stay CSA until the agency conducts a "full notice-and-comment rulemaking."

CSA, which replaces the current SafeStat fitness rating module this week, is being implemented without a formal inter-agency rulemaking. (Coming in 2011, though, is a separate safety fitness determination rulemaking that would bypass the current compliance review process and automatically assign carriers their official designation, such as 'satisfactory,' 'conditional,' based on their active CSA scores).

"The FMCSA should provide the industry and public with full disclosure of all aspects of the proposed rule, including the algorithms and other formulas the agency intends to utilize in developing carriers’ BASIC grades…" the petitioners said in their lawsuit.

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