Safety regulators envision a time when they can automatically collect the information they need about trucks, drivers and carriers as the truck goes about its business on the highway.

That time may not be too far away. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is conducting a field test designed to prove that a national wireless roadside inspection system will work.

The goal is to use commercial mobile radio service technology to do inspections as the truck passes at speed, so compliant carriers don’t have to stop, according to Chris Flanigan, manager of the wireless roadside inspection program at FMCSA.

In the test, which is scheduled to be finished in 2017, the agency will study about 1,000 trucks on 2,400 miles of roads linking Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee.

The agency, working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is now choosing the radio services provider that will in turn solicit the 10 or so carriers to participate in the study.

This is the third phase of a 10-year effort to prove that the technology will work and figure out the details. The concept was successfully tested in 2007 and a pilot test using several trucks to iron out technology and communication issues was completed in 2011.

In a recent web presentation, Flanigan explained that the field test will use a wireless inspection processing system to shuttle data between the truck, the roadside facility, federal and state databases and the carrier.

“The (processing system) will have to do heavy lifting,” he said. “It will have to show that the system can manage the volume of data and provide a benefit to compliant carriers.”

The volume of data is significant. Flanigan described a 10-step sequence that will happen as a truck passes an inspection facility.

It starts with the processing system setting up areas on the road where the data transfers will be automatically triggered, called geofence locations. These locations are transmitted to an operations center, which forwards them to the commercial mobile radio service.

When the truck enters the fenced area, the system scoops up the pertinent information, including driver credentials, hours of service and truck information, and sends it back to the operations center.

The operations center adds other data, such as carrier information it has retrieved from federal and state databases, and sends this safety data message to the processing system.

The system evaluates all of this information and sends the results back to the operations center, which forwards a message to the driver telling him he may continue or must pull in for inspection. This information also is sent to roadside inspection officials, and to FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System, the central database of the agency’s CSA enforcement system.

The researchers have not yet decided what, specifically, the driver will see when he gets the message from the operations center, but it could be the equivalent of a stoplight. A red signal would mean there’s a problem so the driver must pull in. Yellow would indicate that the driver must pull in and follow the signs, perhaps because there’s not enough information. And green would mean there are no issues and the driver can keep going.

Flanigan said researchers expect that the data flowing through the system is likely to affect carriers’ CSA scores in two of the Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories: hours of service compliance and driver fitness.