The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants authority to release driver safety data, in effect reversing its earlier stance that drivers would not be publicly ranked under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program.
The agency is seeking increased regulatory authority over drivers via the next highway reauthorization bill, according to a February Government Accountability Office report to Congress on CSA progress.
“If [FMCSA] gains this authority,” the report reads, “the agency plans to make driver safety data public.”
Asked if the intention was to create a public driver ranking system similar to the agency’s CSA motor carrier percentile ranking system, FMCSA spokeswoman Candice Tolliver said, “The Department of Transportation is committed to working with Congress to address this issue as part of a comprehensive push to update transportation programs and maintain the highest standards of safety for the American public.” Requests for further clarification went unanswered, but sources within the agency and outside confirmed this.
The agency intended years ago to go public with driver data, said John Hill, FMCSA administrator from 2006 to 2008.
“There was a debate among the lawyers in the agency [about if] … the agency had the authority to actually rate drivers,” he said. “We thought we’d make it a part of the next highway bill. We wanted to make sure there was authority to do so, and so would minimize any lawsuits that might arise from some interested party that would not agree with rating drivers.”
A source within FMCSA stressed that making public the driver percentile rankings in the Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories of the Driver Safety Measurement System (DSMS) “has always been the long-term vision.”
Currently, drivers are not ranked against their peers in the BASICs, and data from drivers’ inspection histories is only accessible officially by prospective employers through the Pre-Employment Screening Program.
When FMCSA initially presented CSA to carriers and drivers in 2009, information about the DSMS was not differentiated from the Carrier Safety Measurement System (SMS) in the same way it is today. Owner-operator Don Bradley recalls considerable apprehension about the program initially. “As we’ve learned more about it, some of that apprehension has gone away,” he says. “The initial thoughts about CSA were, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to rate [all the drivers] and the feds would come down and say, you can’t drive, you can’t drive, you can’t drive.’”
FMCSA has contended the DSMS is an internal tool that will be used only by FMCSA staff during carrier investigations. “Under CSA, individual CMV drivers are not assigned safety ratings,” says the CSA website, csa.fmcsa.dot.gov.
The agency’s “long-term vision” may be closer to drivers’ initial impressions than the agency’s current stance on the DSMS. The DSMS as a public system would reveal drivers ranked with percentile numbers against their peers and by their moving, log and equipment violations, similar to how motor carriers are ranked under CSA. The DSMS methodology, containing inspection and crash data, is available via csa.fmcsa.dot.gov, searching “DSMS methodology document.”
FMCSA’s May-released draft 2011-2016 regulatory goals plan makes no specific mention of the DSMS. The plan does refer to continuing development of “a methodology to assess the safety fitness of drivers to further identify unsafe drivers who should not be in the industry.” That process is not mentioned, however, in the anticipated outcomes listed in the strategic plan, suggesting achieving the goal could be more than five years away.
Making driver safety data and rankings public may be a bigger project than FMCSA and Congress will feel is worth the trouble, says Joe Rajkovacz, government affairs specialist with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
“I think the whole idea is going to be fraught with significant ‘due process’ issues for the agency,” he says. “Motor carriers have due process under the regulations – and use it to fight adverse safety fitness determinations. There are likely to be constitutional issues in play here since individuals arguably have more protected rights than a company.”
What’s known as “personally identifiable information,” Rajkovacz notes, is widely protected, including under the Driver Privacy Protection Act. Such information will be necessary in any public CSA driver ranking system. “There are a zillion Joe Smiths,” says Rajkovacz. “How are you sure you have the correct one without PII made available?”
Nearly two years since expiration of the last long-term highway funding law, Congressional transport and infrastructure committees were set to propose the next surface transportation reauthorization bill as early as the week of July 4.
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