CSA Challenges

Todd Dills and Max Kvidera | March 01, 2011

“If you get stopped right now you’ll get a ticket, or you’ll get written up,” Powell says. “You’re not going to get any good inspections.

“There was a time long ago when cops and truckers worked together to promote highway safety. Now it’s like playing cowboys and Indians. I’m so sick and tired of getting the shaft and being nitpicked to death by rookie DOT cops who only know what they’ve learned in a book and nothing about the trucks they’re inspecting.”

Colorado State Patrol Major Mark Savage sees CSA’s influence on the driver/officer relationship differently. Savage led his state’s inspectors through the Colorado CSA pilot program and was heavily involved in implementing the new ISS algorithm at the roadside inspector level. In his view, CSA is improving the relationships between law enforcement and trucking by significantly increasing “the discussion among roadside inspectors and state program managers and the industry,” he says, “one-on-one on the roadside and elsewhere.”

Savage gives the example of a carrier asking about a violation on a roadside inspection report for one of its drivers. The carrier noted that “‘the driver told us that the trooper told him the violation wouldn’t count in the SMS’ because it was just a warning,” Savage says, “but we checked it out and it would” count, illustrating to Savage that, “even in a state that’s been doing this for two years, we still have education that we need to do.”

In conjunction with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Savage has been involved in the production and distribution of training materials for inspectors emphasizing the importance of their actions on carriers’ ability to operate under the new system. Training is ongoing and has been a major part of Savage’s work implementing the program.

Some industry watchers believe CSA may be having unintended results at the roadside level. “CSA has given law enforcement a lot more tools to work with,” says Rickey Gooch, proprietor of the Legal Benefits Group (http://www.golegalbenefits.com), which offers CSA training programs. Some law officers, he contends, are taking advantage of perceived judge-and-jury powers over carriers in some cases. He’s seen “crazy things all around the country. Their thinking is they can cite drivers for anything that they want. They don’t have to write a ticket for it, they can just write it up, and [carriers and drivers] can’t challenge it.”

Drivers are turning to Gooch for help with failed challenges to inspection information filed through FMCSA’s DataQs system. “On the first DataQ I tried to process,” says Indiana-based four-truck fleet Prime Hauling driver Ed Webb, “the response was basically just ‘screw you, it happened.’” Webb was attempting to remove an “ill/fatigued driver” ticket he received while taking an early evening nap on a ramp exiting a rest area, which was full at the time. He was empty and en route home. Though the ticket had been thrown out by the court, it, along with associated parking and logs-not-current violations, remained on his record in the FMCSA’s Pre-Employment Screening Program.

PSP now provides carriers access to potential employee drivers’ and lessees’ inspection and crash histories, and it preceded CSA in implementation by several months. Though a separate program, its growing importance in carrier hiring decisions has given company drivers, for the first time, a clear reason to be using the DataQs challenge system. As for Webb, he also found other past marks on his record via his PSP.

“There was another situation,” Webb says, “where I was written up for not using a seat belt, which was also dismissed by a judge — that was on there. I’m in the process of DataQ’ing all this stuff.”

Webb alerts drivers that if you get an initial negative response to a DataQs filing, don’t stop there. Webb contacted the FMCSA field office in Indiana, the inspecting jurisdiction and his home state, directly. The staff person he spoke to there initially “made it his point that I was basically guilty,” he says, in spite of the court dismissal. Pressed, though, the staffer did eventually remove two of the three marks on Webb’s record. “The parking charge that wasn’t ticketed was going to stay,” Webb says.

Rajkovacz says OOIDA has been hearing many such stories about the DataQs process, formerly used by mostly larger motor carriers, now that individual drivers are using the system under CSA. “The challenges filed are automatically routed back to the jurisdiction that issued the inspection,” he says. “In many cases, it is the officer who is asked to evaluate his own operation — in the past, nobody ever cared because there wasn’t this [CSA] scoring. However, there is now the PSP.”

He gives the example of several cases of drivers in team operations, “where the lead driver goes through an inspection,” he says. Later, the driver sees associated inspection violations show up on both his and his partner’s PSP reports. “We met with FMCSA on this — part of how the DataQs system works needs to be modernized. There’s a real due process issue there.