OIG: SafeStat system better, but work still needed before going public again

| 7/12/2007

Improvements have been made to the motor carrier safety reporting system, SafeStat. But, FMCSA still has some tweaks and fixes it needs to complete before posting the scores to the public again, according to a recent inspector general letter.

“We reviewed FMCSA’s efforts to improve the data relied upon in SafeStat. We found that, although improvements have been made, problems still exist with the reporting of crash data,” Department of Transportation Inspector General Calvin L. Scovel III wrote in a letter to Rep. Thomas E. Petri, R-WI, ranking member on the Aviation Subcommittee of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Petri had requested a review of FMCSA’s progress toward revamping SafeStat system. Scovel’s June 19 letter responded to Petri’s request.

SafeStat is an automated, data-driven analysis system designed by the FMCSA. It collects data from carriers with active U.S. DOT numbers, and combines current and historical carrier-based safety performance information to measure the relative safety fitness of interstate commercial motor carriers and intrastate commercial motor carriers that transport hazardous materials.

This information includes federal and state data on collisions, roadside inspections, on-site compliance review results and enforcement history.

Because of problems revealed in a 2004 audit by the inspector general, FMCSA staffers took the scores down and went to work on the system.

The effectiveness of SafeStat scores is highly dependent on the quality of the crash data file, which in the past was missing a substantial number of reportable crashes, according Scovel’s recent letter.

FMCSA officials claimed significant improvements in the crash file, using 2004 non-fatal crashes in its database as an example. That data represented 99 percent of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s estimated number of non-fatal large truck crashes.

But, the OIG wasn’t satisfied with that.

“We found anomalies that caused us to question the completeness of non-fatal crash reporting,” Scovel wrote in the letter.

Scovel pointed out a few areas FMCSA still needs to focus attention on to get SafeStat up to snuff.

Quality and completeness of crash data reported by the states topped the list. The inspector general acknowledged FMCSA staffers had made progress in this area but essentially pointed out there was more room for improvement.

Non-fatal crashes are another weak link the inspector general points to in his letter. Many states are inconsistent with reporting of non-fatal crashes. Again, the inspector pointed to efforts within the FMCSA to fix this problem.

“FMCSA is working … to develop a non-fatal crash estimate and to incorporate a non-fatal crash completeness measure,” Scovel wrote.

Finally, while FMCSA has made an effort to ensure the quality, Scovel suggests that FMCSA has some work to do on its measurement systems that determine the quality of the data.

“Before FMCSA allows public access to SafeStat scores, it must improve its ability to measure the completeness of non-fatal crash reporting,” Scovel wrote.

“Presently, FMCSA is testing and refining the first version of a new, more accurate national estimate for how many non-fatal crash reports are missing from its database and how many are missing from each state.”

Scovel concluded his letter to Petri by stating that estimate must be in place to give a more accurate picture of a motor carrier before FMCSA goes public with the ratings once again.
FMCSA reportedly is targeting October for making the scores public once again.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor