A database of information on drivers maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration contains inaccurate data, and drivers lack reliable means to correct the problems, an interest group said in a lawsuit against the agency.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Associaion seeks to have FMCSA remove drivers’ violations of rules from its database
if a court finds that the driver is not responsible, and to have the agency take a more active role in vetting challenges to the data, the group said in a federal lawsuit filed July 13.
“We hope to get the database purged of information on drivers, particularly those who have had their cases adjudicated where they’re dismissed or found not guilty, which the agency still refuses to do,” OOIDA President Jim Johnston told Transport Topics.
The information can be very damaging to a driver’s career and his ability to get work from shippers, brokers or employers, Johnston said.
FMCSA declined to comment on the case. A spokeswoman said only that the agency is aware of the lawsuit and is reviewing it.
The driver information at issue is in FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System, which carries information on violations by carriers and drivers. The information is made available to shippers and brokers, is used to score carriers under the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program and is also used to give safety information about drivers to prospective employers via the Pre-Employment Screening Program.
“The statute says that only accurate, reliable information on the drivers’ experience can go into that database and be disseminated to the public,” Johnston said.
In addition to the association itself, OOIDA named four owner-operators as plaintiffs in the suit. Three of the drivers have been found not guilty of alleged violations or had their cases dismissed, while the fourth driver is currently fighting his violation in court.
Since no court has found any of the four drivers guilty of their violations, those violations should be expunged from MCMIS, the group said. But while Johnston has reached out to FMCSA to get the violations removed for the three drivers who were found not guilty or had their cases dismissed, the agency has not listened, he said.
“I wrote two different letters to [FMCSA Administrator] Anne Ferro asking her to address particularly these three individuals that had their cases dismissed or found not guilty,” Johnston said. “She went back to the regional directors of FMCSA, got input from them, and came back and said, ‘No.’ ”
American Trucking Associations agrees with some of OOIDA’s arguments regarding the data FMCSA keeps about carriers and drivers, said Rob Abbott, ATA’s vice president of safety policy.
“I think it presents some very valid arguments and some problems for FMCSA,” Abbott said. “In this respect, ATA agrees with OOIDA that dismissed citations should not be used to drive CSA scores or to paint a picture of driver or carrier safety performance.”
ATA has stepped up its criticisms of CSA in recent months. In May, its leadership crystallized its objections into a letter and demanded that FMCSA fix the issues. That followed a March decision by the agency to delay rollout of a system that would give carriers different scores for crashes based on carriers’ responsibility (5-28, p. 1).
OOIDA’s July 13 complaint matched two of ATA’s objections to the violation data, Abbott said: dismissed or not-guilty violations should not be scored and FMCSA should put more effort into fixing incorrect data.
“There’s a lot of discussion about the need for FMCSA to take greater ownership of the data,” Abbott said. “They effectively return the drivers to the states to deal with those, which creates a number of subsequent problems.”
Carriers and drivers may challenge violation data through an FMCSA process known as DataQ. But FMCSA puts states in charge of adjudicating those challenges, in what OOIDA said is a violation of Fair Credit Reporting Act.
FCRA requires that agencies that gather information about consumers “follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of the information concerning the individual about whom the report relates,” OOIDA said in its lawsuit.
FMCSA’s actions also violate the Privacy Act and legislation written specifically to govern MCMIS, OOIDA said.
“It’s outrageous how irresponsibly FMCSA behaves,” Johnston said.
OOIDA’s lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The court had not scheduled oral arguments on the matter as of last week.