CSA: The rub

By Jami Jones, senior editor | 3/16/2010

The new compliance enforcement program put together by FMCSA is clever in its concept that enforcement will be triggered by performance.

The way data is handled and considered, it weights behaviors that pose the greatest risks to truckers and highway safety. Ultimately, it’s about reducing the number of big truck-related injuries and fatalities even more.

The linchpin of the entire system is the data. And that is the one area raising the most concern at the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

The data is going to include all violations noted on inspection reports and crash reports.

The information entered is not limited to just convictions. Citations and warnings – as long as they are noted on the inspection reports – will all be included in the database and calculated to figure the safety rating.

Tickets that are not included on an inspection report, however, will not be entered into the CSA 2010 database.

“The fact that all violations, rather than convictions, are being entered into this system sets drivers up to be accused, tried and convicted on the roadside by enforcement personnel,” said OOIDA Director of Regulatory Affairs Rick Craig.

Craig said FMCSA officials have repeatedly been questioned about their insistence on including citations that have not been proven through some sort of legal process.

“The lack of due process for drivers to challenge the legitimacy of violations is completely irrational,” Craig said. “It flies in the face of the premise of innocent until proven guilty.”

In addition to the presumption of guilt, OOIDA is concerned about the quality of the data being entered into the system. And rightfully so.

It is a lot of data. The carrier portion of the database will carry 24 months of inspections and crash reports. The driver profiles will contain 36 months of data.

By FMCSA’s math, the two databases contain 690,000 motor carrier profiles and 3.6 million driver profiles with data from approximately 26.2 million inspections and 730,000 crash records.

Factor in the fact that all of that data is coming in from law enforcement agencies from all around the country in states with different reporting procedures and one can’t help but wonder how accurate all of that data can be.

FMCSA has been working closely with states since 2004 to shore up reporting of violations. In 2004, fewer than half of the states and DC were classified as being “good” or “green” states. A total of 14 states were rated “poor” or “red” states.

In five years, 32 states are now classified as good. But 14 remain in the fair category, with five still languishing in the poor category.

Drawing from an old computer adage – garbage in, garbage out. If the data is not entered properly or not entered at all, it seems inevitable that motor carrier and driver compliance records may not be completely accurate.

Currently, motor carriers can challenge information contained in their safety profiles through a system called Data Qs. Craig said that most of the time, carriers find that challenging data rarely results in the error being corrected.

“FMCSA will reach out to the state that entered the information, and all it takes is for the state to reject the claim of inaccuracy. Case closed,” Craig said.

It also seems that motor carriers and drivers are being treated significantly different. For starters, motor carriers only have to worry about two years worth of data. Drivers will lug around three years of inspection violations and crash reports following them around.

 “There has to be a simple, effective process for drivers and motor carriers to challenge erroneous information,” Craig said. “We know from years of experience that law enforcement doesn’t always get it right. Without accurate data and due process, it sets the system up to fail miserably.”

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