Will you get burned by boiling vats of data?
An Oregon company is making a name for itself deciphering the FMCSA’s complex data and offering it in an easy scorecard for sale

By John Bendel, contributing writer

An industry has grown up around the boiling vats of data the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gathers on you, the driver, and uses it to generate the ratings for its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.

Technology companies now slice, dice, shake and bake available FMCSA driver data into reports, scorecards, dashboards and alerts that are easier for carriers to understand than the agency’s labyrinthine website and the alphabet monsters (BASIC, SMS, PSP, etc.) that live there.

Vigillo of Portland, Ore., isn’t the only company in the business of making sense of CSA. But with endorsements from the American Trucking Associations and a claim of 2,000 carrier customers – including many of the biggest – plus a database of 700,000 drivers, Vigillo is the most high-profile actor in the game right now.

The name Vigillo (pronounced VIJ-i-low) is based on the word vigilant according to the company website. There Vigillo is described as a “team of statisticians and nimble software engineers with a talent for deciphering complex information and delivering it in an at-a-glance scorecard format.”

The complex information these nimble folks decipher is extracted from those boiling vats at FMCSA. Vigillo calls it Big Data. They sift and sort it, coming up with insights they refer to as wisdom. They call their various services and products wisdom deployed.

Vigillo CEO Steven Bryan, who founded the company in 2007, believes Vigillo is often misunderstood by drivers.

“There’s been a lot of negative press about what Vigillo is doing,” he said. “I love OOIDA. I think they do a great job. We have no reason in any way to stand in opposition to such groups or to drivers. But we serve the carrier. We are trying to help the carrier run safer operations.”

Vigillo does that, he explained, by helping them understand regulatory challenges and run safer operations through a range of products, some to keep carriers aware of changing CSA information and some to put that information in useful contexts.

Of all Vigillo’s products, though, the most interesting just might be one called the PSP Converter. It offers something the FMCSA will not provide to drivers – driver CSA scores.

All of this raises questions. Should we be concerned that a single company is processing huge amounts of government driver data for carriers? Exactly what data is Vigillo getting? How can the data be corrected if it’s in error? And how can Vigillo offer driver CSA scores that are supposedly off-limits to virtually everyone – including drivers themselves?

According to Bryan, Vigillo has developed software that computes a valid CSA score based on PSP data. PSP stands for the Pre-employment Screening Program that FMCSA by congressional mandate offers to fleets considering driver hires. An individual PSP report includes the inspections, violations, and crashes attributed to any CDL driver. But it does not contain any CSA scores or comparative numbers.

Here’s how the Vigillo website explains its PSP Converter:
“You run FMCSA’s PSP report and receive a PDF file as the output. The Vigillo PSP Converter scans that report and applies the CSA methodology to the crashes, inspections, and violations and instantly reports a CSA Scorecard on that driver.”

“We are able to run and mimic their methodology,” Bryan explained.

It’s a kind of a regulatory magic trick that, while apparently legal, makes an end run around current FMCSA policy.

The FMCSA knows this is happening. On its website the agency says, “While some third-party vendors are developing and marketing CSA driver scorecards, consumers should know that FMCSA does not provide access to the driver violation histories to these companies. FMCSA has not and will not validate any vendors’ scorecards or data.”

Duh. Of course they don’t supply the data to Vigillo. They supply it to the carrier entitled by law to have it. Vigillo never sees the data; they only provide software to the customer fleet, which runs the application on its own computer. And FMCSA validation appears to be something no one needs.

“We wouldn’t last long if our calculations were off,” Bryan said. “Our CSA scores match theirs.”

Through another product called Roadside Resume, Vigillo makes those CSA scores magically appear for individual drivers as well. Drivers for Vigillo customers, with the permission of the fleet, can calculate their CSA scores. Vigillo doesn’t charge carriers or drivers for the Roadside Resume service, but the carrier must opt into the Roadside Resume program for its drivers to take part.

“At the end of the day, I just have a problem. Call it citizen versus the government,” Bryan said. “I just don’t like that they create a system like this and attach scores to individual people and then won’t tell them what it is. It doesn’t seem right to me. That was really the energy that went into why we created Roadside Resume.”

Where data security is concerned, Bryan claims the information it receives from the FMCSA is through the permission of its fleet customers. By contract, customers cannot share Vigillo data with anyone else. Since many of Vigillo services are cloud-based (on the Internet), they employ multiple layers of digital security.

And what if some data is inaccurate?

Bryan explained that wrong information must be corrected at the source, which in most cases is the state and local authorities who actually conduct inspections, issue citations, and deal with accidents, not the FMCSA.

As it happens, OOIDA has launched two lawsuits – which the Association is in the process of combining into one lawsuit – against FMCSA on precisely this issue. OOIDA believes drivers should be able to correct wrong information in FMCSA databases with the FMCSA itself rather than chase mistakes down widespread information rabbit holes. For all the time that takes, bad information continues to be used and sometimes shared by the FMCSA. OOIDA won a procedural battle in February enabling the suits to go forward.

Of the data Vigillo works with, Bryan said: “We don’t generate it. We don’t change it. We don’t modify it.”

But Vigillo loves data, and some of its findings can be interesting beyond trucking’s executive suites. Take a blog from 2011 that seems to confirm what drivers knew all along. Law enforcement varies greatly from one jurisdiction to another.

In a blog, Vigillo Sales Director Drew Anderson wrote, “In the state of Indiana 31.7 percent of all Driver Violations written were for speeding (392.2S) in calendar 2010. Cross over to Ohio and that number falls to 16.9 percent in the same calendar year. Head out west to Arizona and the percentage of all 392.2S violations was a mere 4.2 percent of the total Driver Violations for calendar 2010.”

Sure enough, Vigillo has compiled a report called Comprehensive State Enforcement Statistics.

“Which states write the most citations?” says the sales blurb. “Where are your drivers more likely to be pulled over? Which states perform the most Level 1, 2, or 3 inspections? Who issues the most violations and in which categories? Who writes the most clean inspections?”

For a mere $499 Vigillo customers can buy the report and find out. LL

A trucker for 10 years and trucking journalist for more than 14 years, John Bendel’s biggest inspiration still comes from his readers. For his series in Land Line, he wants to know what kind of technology has become part of your job. Love it, hate it, how does it work for you? Email John at John_Bendel@landlinemag.com.