New and improved

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) finally has its electronic carrier profile data export service up and running again. New features and a revised format for exporting files have greatly enhanced the usefulness of the electronic data, which will be available to subscribers soon. This is good news for fleets, since many relied on the database to provide information that was critical

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) finally has its electronic carrier profile data export service up and running again. New features and a revised format for exporting files have greatly enhanced the usefulness of the electronic data, which will be available to subscribers soon.

This is good news for fleets, since many relied on the database to provide information that was critical to their driver management systems. Carrier profiles were used to generate running logs of 24-month roadside inspection violations by driver, thus enabling them to identify and get rid of poor performers.

The service was suspended last August during the agency's upgrade of its Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) truck safety database. At that time, electronic carrier profiles were provided in Microsoft “word” and “text” versions. Electronic exports from the old system were cumbersome and difficult to manipulate since they were designed in a written page rather than a flat file (i.e, Microsoft Excel or comma-delimited) format.

In spite of this, however, cutting-edge motor carriers and third-party vendors had developed the ability to “reverse engineer” these written page reports into meaningful summaries of inspection and crash data.

FMCSA switched to the new database — aptly named New MCMIS — last September. The truck safety database is now housed on an Oracle (tm) Server-based system, bringing data management capabilities into the 21st Century.

Before the system could be fully implemented, however, the agency had to develop new procedures and user interfaces. A revised carrier profile file export procedure was completed in early January.

Files will now be provided in XML (extensible markup language) format. While most users are not accustomed to this format, it is definitely the wave of the future. Each data element (e.g., Inspection Date) includes a “data tag,” which defines both name and format of the data piece. Many database packages (e.g., Microsoft Access-XP version) can directly open/import this file format.

A carrier that recently tested a Beta version found that Microsoft Access-XP easily opened the file and built a table for each of the reports needed. The fleet was able to manipulate these tables in Microsoft Access or export them to other spreadsheet programs.

FMCSA recently released an updated version of ProVu, developed to import and view XML Carrier Profiles. Driver names are now separated, i.e., first, middle initial and last, and names can be spelled out completely.

One drawback to this enhancement is that it will be difficult to combine new and old file formats, since the driver-name field can no longer be used to identify “duplicate” inspections.

Each violation now has a “Y” or “N” out-of-service indicator as a separate field, allowing a quick tabulation of all out-of-service offenses.

It's important to start preparing now for these new reports. Chances are your fleet has not conducted a comprehensive violation analysis by driver name since the August 2002 cutoff date. Be prepared to identify and intervene with those individuals who've been cited for multiple “driver shenanigans” during that paper-only report period.

Identify someone in your firm who can manipulate the XML data. Although ProVu will allow you to view the new profile reports, it's also a good idea to incorporate the inspection and crash information into your own driver management program. ProVu has limited export capabilities, which makes it difficult for sharing data with other applications.

I'm still trying to figure out why it took FMCSA five months to re-implement the Carrier Profile data exports. The agency has not hesitated to ask the industry to partner with them in achieving the “50 by 2010” crash reduction target.

It would have been nice if the motor carrier agency had partnered with the industry to ensure seamless data availability during this transition period.

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