A few weeks ago, I wrote here about how safety violations are being tracked and used in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Pre-employment Screening Program, a program that relies on its safety database. Just before Thanksgiving, the FMCSA announced a change to the way that violations are reported to that database, which it also uses in the agency’s relatively new Comprehensive Safety Accountability program. There’s a lot at stake for truckers and trucking companies in these changes, because the way violations are reported can influence hiring decisions and the chance of a serious semi truck accident lawsuit. According to Land Line magazine, the magazine of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the change will create a uniform nationwide system for removing incorrect reports.
The database, called the Motor Carrier Management Information System, contains information about roadside inspections, violations of safety rules, citations and crash reports. The PSP program permits employers and employment screeners to check that information for a driver before he or she is hired. The CSA program determines safety rankings for trucking companies, by weighting safety violations and assigning a score. Those safety rankings are public, which has led many trucking companies to worry that they could be used against them in a tractor-trailer accident lawsuit. As a result, there’s great interest in correcting incorrect records. Prior to this change, if a driver wanted to update a record—say, because a ticket was dismissed—he or she could contest the data, but there was no policy for removing the record from MCMIS. This created inconsistencies between different states.
With the change, there will be a uniform policy for handling these challenges, leading to a more reliable national safety database. If a ticket is dismissed or a driver is found not guilty, the record will simply be removed. The records of drivers who must pay fines or fees will show a conviction, even if the actual ticket is dismissed. If the driver is convicted of something other than the violation alleged by the ticket, a note will be added to the original violation saying so. For CSA purposes, the weight of the changed conviction will be the lowest weight out of either the original charge or the charge of conviction. The change will not be retroactive, which means drivers’ PSP records may still reflect incorrect citations from before it is made. The public has 30 days to comment on the proposed change.
Drivers commenting on this article seem to have a low opinion of the PSP and CSA programs to start with, and suggest that the federal government is not making the change retroactive because it doesn’t want to admit it was wrong. I suspect there are practical impediments, but in any case, I also believe more information for the public is better. This change will provide that information, by giving us a fuller picture of the resolution of drivers’ safety violations. This will help make everyone safer, by letting trucking companies weed out people with consistent safety problems that might someday lead to a serious 18-wheeler crash. People who control huge multi-ton vehicles should be held to a higher safety standard, and I applaud the FMCSA for taking steps to do that.