Speaking at the big Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance meeting, ongoing this week in Louisville, when Indiana State Police DataQs coordinator Michael Wilson ended his run through various tips for making a successful DataQs request for data review (or RDR) in the event of an erroneous inspection or violation or an incorrectly assigned crash, more than one carrier rep in the audience asked about a particular kind of situation. Both reported drivers receiving out-of-service violations for operating without corrective lenses (or, yes, their eyeglasses) after having taken them off when the officer stopped them. While Wilson’s tips (below) make the whole DataQs process sound neat and tidy, ultimately, he said, “There are always two sides to everything.” If the officer sticks to the story, saying he actually “observed the driver driving” without glasses, “we’re stuck.”
If you missed the news yesterday, the DataQs website, at least, is getting a makeover to make it much more user-friendly for both carriers and drivers. Find that news here.
In the meantime, here’s a run-through the basics of Wilson’s presentation, with some helpful tips on completing a successful challenge/RDR through the FMCSA’s DataQs system.
1. Make the request as timely as possible. While there is no time limit on challenging a piece of information contributing to your CSA scores/profile, getting the challenge in before two years is up, when it falls off the CSA radar — three years if you’re a leased owner-operator or company driver and your carrier hasn’t done it already — is a no-brainer.
2. Specify the correct RDR Type. Wilson’s office spends no small amount of time, he said, correcting RDRs even at the initial submission level. From the get-go when inputting your RDR, make sure you select the appropriate action type, delineating that it has to do with a particular violation, an inspection, crash, etc.
3. Provide the accurate report number. This refers to your inspection report — giving the accurate number will help Wilson or other appropriate reviewing state agency determine whether “this inspection or crash actually [belongs] to my agency. Is this a valid report number? Can I find the report?”
4. Provide a clear and detailed explanation of what you want reviewed. In the event that the initial category is insufficient to cover the full scope of what is needed in your review, use the section for explanation to elaborate on problems. As Wilson put it, “One of the things we’ve noticed is that sometimes a review request will ask about one thing, but two or three other things are incorrect on the report. We’re going to correct them all…. We have just as much interest in ensuring all the data on that report is as correct as possible. Indiana takes several steps to review all of our data quality – we want to minimize any negative impacts on you.”
5. Provide as much possible supporting documentation that is valid and relevant. Pictures documenting a supposed maintenance violation, for instance, time-stamped if possible. In events where a violation or inspection is wrongly assigned to your own DOT number or the wrong driver, providing bills of lading, truck registration documents and/or driver’s license, rental or lease agreement copies may be appropriate. Wilson called this “one of the most important things that you can do to help us resolve an RDR. Without it, we’ll have to do a lot of fishing.” If what is being disputed is a violation coupled with a state citation that a judge overturned in court, whatever evidence was presented to the judge to have it thrown out should be provided to the feds as well.
6. Keep RDRs professional and detailed.
7. Make factual statements. Whenever possible, stick to the facts of the case without injecting opinion/emotion into the request.
8. Ask for additional time as necessary. Wilson reported coming back to carriers often requesting additional data, a common practice being to give the carrier or driver a time limit in which to get the data. If you need more time, he noted, however, simply fire off an email to the reviewer to let him or her know you’re working on getting the data. “We want to make sure,” he said, “we’re not just sitting doing nothing for extended periods” to get data problems resolved in a timely manner.
9. Follow up as appropriate. It is your right to appeal any final decision made by a state’s DataQs handler. Two states, Arizona and New Hampshire, have set up official boards with industry representatives in addition to law enforcement reps to review these appeals, said Wilson. The remainder of states handle them less formally, but “we will re-review your information. For secondary review, we have a large number of staff with a lot of experience.”
If you’ve gone through this process yourself, I imagine you have more in the way of helpful advice — please share here in the comments.