Every driver, owner operator, and motor carrier focuses on the “bottom line” and for good reason – success is dependent upon it.  In this article, we discuss one of the ways by which drivers and motor carriers can improve the bottom line – DataQs challenges. 

The System

Commercial drivers and motor carriers are tightly monitored under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program.  The CSA program uses the Safety Measurement System (SMS) to analyze data from roadside inspections, including driver and vehicle violations; crash reports from the last two years; and investigation results.  The data is updated once a month and organized into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs):  Unsafe Driving; Crash Indicator; Hours of Service Compliance; Vehicle Maintenance; Controlled Substances/Alcohol; Hazardous Materials Compliance; and Driver Fitness. 

Be mindful that the CSA measurement system uses the previous 24 months’ worth of data when calculating a carrier’s BASIC Scores and the last 36 months for drivers.  A commercial driver’s Pre-Employment Screening Program (PSP) report includes five years of FMCSA reportable crashes in which they were involved and three years of inspection records based on the date of the most recent monthly update.  CSA analyzes safety-based violations and attaches a corresponding percentage score to the driver/carrier.  Accordingly, data obtained beyond those respective time periods will not be considered.  The CSA score is expected to correlate to the safety record of drivers or carriers.  Therefore, it is important to strive to have the lowest possible CSA score.   

Unfortunately, under this system, CSA points can be assessed even before a judge has determined guilt or innocence.  Not only is this system contrary to a fundamental cornerstone of our justice system; innocent until proven guilty, but the system can impact the income earning potential of drivers and motor carriers.  Indeed, many shipper – carrier agreements require a motor carrier to maintain at least a ‘satisfactory’ SMS score.  Likewise, drivers can be denied employment based upon information contained in a Pre-Employment Screening (PSP) report.  While shippers, customers, and employers are absolutely justified in basing their hiring and retention decisions on this data, those decisions could be based upon inaccurate or incorrect information. 

DataQs

The DataQs is an online system for commercial drivers, motor carriers, Federal and State agencies, and the public to submit their concerns about Federal and State data released to the public contained in FMCSA data systems.  Most importantly, the DataQs is a forum where motor carriers and drivers can challenge the validity of an inaccurate or incorrect citation or inspection record.  To avoid abusing the system and making frivolous requests, DataQs challenges should only be submitted after a concern has been diligently investigated.  

Once properly registered, which can be done with relative ease by visiting https://dataqs.fmcsa.dot.gov/Data/Register.aspx or through the FMCSA Portal at https://portal.fmcsa.dot.gov/login, you can begin entering your Requests for Data Review (RDR or Requests).  The Requests will be entered by following a series of prompts, responding to information requests, and uploading anydocuments explaining the issue(s) relevant to and in support of your Request.  After the Request is complete, DataQs will then automatically forward it to the appropriate agency for review and resolution.   

Other than the time and effort involved, there is no cost to file a Request.  Another benefit of DataQs is when your Request has been denied or the data is unchanged, the DataQs analyst who worked on your Request will usually contact the Requestor to explain the reasoning for the adverse response.  This communication not only softens the rejection but will usually provide some insight and guidance in order to increase the likelihood of future success using DataQs 

When submitting Requests, there are a few important points to consider.  First, although there is no statutory filing deadline, it is highly recommended that Requests be submitted as quickly as possible after the issue has been discovered.  Memories fade and documents disappear, both of which are vital to successfully using the DataQs system.  Do not wait until it is time to negotiate a contract with an important customer or seek new employment.  By the time the Request is decided, the potential customer or employer will have hired the competition.   

Second, just as evidence is needed to prevail in a courtroom, DataQs Requests must also contain supporting documentation.  The documentation you will need is case specific, but think: crash and inspection reports; pre-trip inspection reports; maintenance records; bills of lading/shipping/trip documents; time and date stamped photographs; records confirming the disposition of traffic citations/inspection violations; driver’s license; and registration and insurance.  Again, you will need to upload copies of any supporting documentation on to the DataQs system to accompany your Request.  Without any documentation, you have little chance of success.   

Last but not least, be detailed and professional in the explanation set forth in the Request.  Be reminded that the authorities who issued the citations or noted violations on the inspection reports still deserve respect, even if violations were stacked or duly issued permits were voided.  Recognize they are human beings who may have made an honest mistake, focus on the facts at hand, and leave all commentary and opinions out of the Request.    

DataQs Results

The list below provided by the FMCSA (retrieved from: https://dataqs.fmcsa.dot.gov) outlines how the citation results impact the use of the associated violation in other FMCSA data systems.  While the SMS results and the PSP report will treat and display the violations differently based on the citation result, carriers and enforcement users logging into the FMCSA Portal or SMS with their account will be able to see all violations listed on an inspection and the associated citation result recorded. 

If the violation is appended to reflect… 

  1. Not guilty/dismissed  
    1. It will be excluded from the SMS calculations. 
    2. It will be excluded from the PSP report.
  2. Convicted of different charge 
    1. The severity weight in the SMS calculations will be set to 1.
    2. It will be indicated as conviction of a different charge on the PSP report.
  3. Convicted of original charge  
    1. It will maintain the same severity weight in the SMS calculations. 
    2. It will be included on the PSP report. 
  4. N/A (includes abeyance)  
    1. It will maintain the same severity weight in the SMS calculations. 
    2. It will be included on the PSP report. 

Accordingly, following final disposition of a citation or inspection violation, the outcome should be cross referenced against the SMS calculations and PSP report to ensure the results are accurate. 

In Summary

DataQs is not without flaws but the FMSCA and its analysts are constantly finding ways to improve its effectiveness.  Do not cast aside or overlook any data in your citations or inspection reports which you truly believe is inconsistent, incomplete or incorrect!  By doing so, you may jeopardize your next job, transportation contract, and/or your safety scores, all of which impact the bottom line.