Several months back, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration bowed to pressure and pulled some information off its public SafeStat web site. The online database, which was designed to measure motor carrier safety performance, was found to be riddled with flaws.
SafeStat scores indicate how a fleet is doing in such areas as accident history and driver performance. FMCSA uses the data to decide which carriers to investigate as candidates for poor safety ratings. Shippers and insurers could use the public part of it to judge whether they should do business with a particular carrier.
The suspension of the public data followed a 2004 DOT Inspector General's audit that criticized SafeStat's shortcomings. That was good news to motor carriers, some of whom found themselves listed publicly with safety violations that they didn't even commit.
Accident data is reported to SafeStat by state agencies. The Inspector General's audit discovered that many of them were doing a lousy job; some failed to even file accident reports.
The 2004 plan was for FMCSA to get with the states and fix the system, then re-post some carrier performance data on the public site. The agency was already working on it.
In 2003, FMCSA gave 22 states federal grants to help them pay for improving their crash data reporting systems. It started a "new entrant" program to improve reporting accuracy, sped up delivery of data to the system from six months to 30 days, and upgraded data collection software.
It didn't work.
As the FMCSA was proceeding with plans to re-post some carrier accident data, the American Trucking Associations objected. Its letter to the agency said SafeStat's flaws still "include wholesale underreporting of relevant crash data by states" and "use of a statistical model that has been found to be partially ineffective in identifying at-risk motor carriers."
Then-Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta apparently agreed, and announced that for the time being the agency will not re-post the data as planned.
SafeStat's system is now under review by the DOT Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office and FMCSA itself.
Let's hope they come up with some ideas to make this thing work the way it was supposed to. Otherwise, its public exposure of crash data should stay where it is – locked up.
E-mail Doug Condra at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write PO Box W, Newport Beach, CA 92658.