CSA: DataQs reform, more debated by MCSAC

| August 28, 2012

Potential significant reform of the of the DataQs process for disputing violations in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance Safety Accountability and Pre-Employment Screening programs got a push Monday with the formation of a new CSA Subcommittee to the Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee. At a meeting of the full committee in Alexandria, Va., members named reforming the DataQs process among the top three CSA issues to address as the subcommittee is formed in advance of its first meeting, scheduled tentatively for the third week of October.

“The DataQs process from the carrier’s side is not functioning very well at all,” said MCSAC member Danny Schnautz of Texas-based Clark Freight Lines. “For me that is the number one thing” the agency needs to be considering with regard to CSA.

Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said the inadequacies of the challenge process raise questions of “fundamental due process that this country was founded on.” Too often, he added, “we see inspections and violations that are identified that are clearly not violations. DataQs has improved, but in the end the roadside inspector may ultimately have the last word, and sometimes they clearly are wrong, and there doesn’t appear to be a review process.”

There were also questions from the enforcement side of the DataQs equation, where officers have been somewhat unclear on whether a court dismissal of a citation that accompanied any one violation or series of violations resulting from an inspection should mean that the associated violations should be removed from the system. “That’s a huge issue,” said Paul Claunch of the Arkansas State Police. “Carriers call us up all the time. There are a lot of issues that could arise if that were the case.”

Other top priorities for the subcommittee, whose members will be determined in the coming weeks, possibly drawing on industry and/or enforcement representatives outside of the main committee, included a look at whether the CSA system is actually working to achieve goals, as well as recommendations on the primary focus of the system. Questions arose on the first point following FMCSA Associate Administrator for Enforcement Bill Quade’s presentation that revealed what he called the “elephant in the room” for any CSA effectiveness discussion: The Driver Fitness CSA Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Category, unlike most other BASICs, shows “no correlation there on the carrier level for higher future crash rates,” Quade said. “On a driver level [in the internal Driver Safety Measurement System], we know that these do correlate.”

Quade added that, analyzing crash statistics, it was clear that “unlicensed drivers are overrepresented in crashes throughout this country. From our perspective, compliance is important. Compliance plus Accountability equals Safety.”

Asked to account for why the lack of correlation between the BASIC, which includes items related to drivers’ CDLs (including medical certification) and carrier crash risk doesn’t exist, Quade said simply, “I don’t know.”

“It seems like it would be really critical to be able to answer that question,” Spencer said.

Rob Abbott, safety policy vice president for the American Trucking Associations, suggested evaluations of independent third-party analyses of the system, such as Wells Fargo’s and University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute: “We need a balanced perspective on whether” the system is working to reduce crashes.

On the directive to issue recommendations to clarify the agency’s ultimate goals with the program, said Abbott, “What are we trying to do here? what’s the priority?” Is it, he asked, to reduce the incidence or severity of crashes — or in some cases both?

A local UPS driver, noted Schnautz, may “have more crashes over the year, but [fender benders] may only cost $200-$300. Reducing severity may be all we can do in some cases.”

A new request for comments on recently announced changes to CSA that were not part of the earlier data preview was published in the Federal Register today. Find more via this pdf or our story explaining the new rules.

Comment via regulations.gov, docket no. FMCSA-2004-18898.

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