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Why simple problems produce complex results

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) created a program called Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) to help assess safety performance of trucking companies. The CSA includes reports of truck crashes, and some trucking organizations had been urging the FMCSA to add "fault assignment" to the truck crashes.

They believed that this would help distinguish between situations where the truck driver was clearly at fault, like that of the Tracy Morgan crash from last summer. In that truck accident, one man was killed and Morgan and others were injured when a sleepy truck driver crashed into their limo. In other situations, they hope it would clearly indicate when the driver of the other vehicle is at fault.

Seems reasonable on its face. The trucking organizations suggested applying a numerical score that would indicate the degree of fault of the involved drivers. This, too, seems reasonable.

But here's the hard part.

Who assigns the score?

The police? The trucker's insurance company? The other driver's insurance company? A judge? And if there is a dispute, who handles it?

The FMCSA, in an environment where funding fails to keep pace with the demands placed on the agency, recognized that the complexities of managing such a system of scoring was beyond the capabilities of the agency.

The fact that most of the fault assessment would be done by the investigating law enforcement agency would make the program unmanageable. This is because there is no standardized report. Different law enforcement agencies use different forms and the quality of that report may be dependent on the experience and knowledge of the officer, which could vary greatly.

As nice as it would be to have an easy way in which to determine which trucking companies are obviously negligent and which are innocent victims, it is unlikely that anyone is willing to pay the expense of developing a uniform process that would enable the resulting report to have much validity.

With complex systems, nothing is ever simple.

Overdriveonline.com, "Trucking groups on FMCSA’s crash accountability study: Incomplete data in CSA still inexcusable," Todd Dills & James Jaillet, January 28, 2015

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