The six-year highway reauthorization program, known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), was finally passed by Congress and signed into law last month. The $286.5-billion bill allocates about $4 billion for motor carrier safety efforts. While most is designated for federal and state safety oversight efforts, a significant portion goes to initiatives such as improvements to the CDL program, border safety, and safety data.
SAFETEA-LU also includes a number of enhancements to truck safety legislation, including a directive to prepare rules governing medical examiner certifications and establish “roadability standards” for intermodal equipment.
The bill also contains a provision to improve the quality and effectiveness of driver safety background checks. Known as “Safety Performance History Screening,” it stipulates that FMCSA give carriers some access to the Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) for pre-employment driver screening, including accident reports, roadside inspections and serious driver-related violations.
Employers will be required to provide important privacy safeguards, however. First, they must have written permission from applicants to conduct MCMIS safety reviews. Second, they must ensure that the information is used only for pre-employment screening. Finally, procedures must be put in place for applicants to review and correct any inaccurate information.
But the provision stops short of what many safety professionals had originally recommended. For example, review of roadside inspection data is limited to those instances where there are either no violations at all or serious driver-related safety violations. These are defined as instances that “result in a driver being prohibited from continuing to operate a commercial motor vehicle until the violation is corrected.” Examples include exceeding hours of service, falsifying logs, and drug/alcohol violations.
While knowing whether candidates have these violations on their records would be helpful in evaluating safety performance, it doesn't create a complete picture. Giving carriers access to candidates' crash histories and all roadside inspection data would enable prospective employers to make more accurate assessments.
The original vision for this provision came out of an FMCSA roadside inspection tool called Query Central. (See “Safety Matters,” 5/02.) It's an intelligent inquiry system designed to dramatically expedite law enforcement officials' access to motor carrier safety information.
Query Central provides real-time roadside access to driver, vehicle, and motor carrier information and combines the functions of: the Inspection Selection System; U.S., Canadian, and Mexican Commercial Driver License Information System; Past Inspection Query; PRISM sanctioned carriers list; Licensing & Insurance database; and the Mexican SCT carrier database.
We'd hoped the provision would allow carriers to access a kind of Query Central “lite” system as a way to speed and enhance driver-candidate background checks. But as currently written, it doesn't quite reach that goal.
Nevertheless, this provision will result in a giant leap forward in the quality of driver background checks. I'll keep you apprised as it makes its way through the FMCSA rulemaking process.
Jim York is the manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.