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Senator questions FMCSA priorities in developing app for 'inaccurate' carrier safety scores

Senator questions FMCSA priorities in developing app for 'inaccurate' carrier safety scores

Fischer wants to know agency thinking, process behind QCMobile

A U.S. Senator who has promised legislation to reform the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) now wants to know why the agency recently released an app designed to provide streamlined mobile-device access to Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) data on trucking companies.

“I have serious concerns about FMCSA's release of the app and the agency's decision to use resources to enhance public access to inaccurate data,” Sen. Deb Fischer (R.-NE) wrote in an April 9 letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The letter cites a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found FMCSA's minimum data requirements for carriers to receive a safety score “are not sufficient to produce reliable scores” and do not allow for comparison of carriers across the industry.

“Inaccurate SMS scores cost businesses contracts, encourage litigation, and have the potential to negatively impact safety on our nation's roads,” the letter says.

As chair of the Senate Commerce subcommittee on surface transportation, Fischer made similar points in a March 4 hearing on FMCSA. In testimony, GAO Director Susan Fleming outlined last year’s CSA study, which concluded some basic changes could vastly improve the program’s effectiveness.

Sen. Deb Fischer

Yet when Fischer challenged then-Acting Administrator Scott Darling on the agency’s to plan improve CSA, he offered no specifics. Darling, the agency’s general counsel but now with full leadership responsibility, repeatedly emphasized FMCSA’s commitment to high safety standards and “continuous improvement,” and he defended the quality of the data that underlies the system.

The app, QCMobile, was made available for iPhones and Android devices March 17.

The next day on the Road Dog Trucking Radio show, Fleming again outlined GAO’s problems with CSA, and said the new app “gives us a little bit of heartburn.”

“We really have some concerns about reporting the scores publicly. We don’t think they’re reliable, so we don’t think they should be reported on a website or, obviously, on an app,” Fleming said. “We’re not going to back down, but it looks like they aren’t either.”

In the letter to Foxx (to whom she writes because FMCSA “currently does not have a Senate-confirmed administrator”), Fischer asks specifically for answers to these questions:

  1. Does FMCSA intend to offer easily identifiable disclaimers in QCMobile regarding the flawed SMS scores?
  2. What was the cost incurred by FMCSA in developing QCMobile?
  3. Given the serious flaws with the CSA methodology, why was developing QCMobile a priority for FMCSA?
  4. Does FMCSA intend to collect user data? If so, for what purpose will FMCSA use this data?
  5. Does FMCSA intend to develop other applications for mobile devices?

Fleet Owner posed similar questions to the agency upon the app’s release, and received an acknowledgment but no further details from FMCSA.

Henry Seaton, an attorney who early in CSA’s implementation achieved a court settlement with the agency meant to clarify that the carrier safety scores are not a substitute for official agency safety ratings, said he wasn’t surprised that QCMobile doesn’t display the agreed-upon disclaimer language.

He suggested that the agency will continue to develop “rules by horoscope” until Congress intervenes.

“It seems like every six months they retinker with the website,” Seaton told Fleet Owner. “So why are they going out selling apps? The ultimate issue is they’re still doing everything they can to transfer responsibility for safety ratings by setting a de facto higher standard. This agency seems to think they can hold the fear of liability lawsuits over brokers, shippers and carriers—without concern for what it does to the small guys.”

But Seaton also noted FMCSA has long had a similar website to provide consumers information on motor coach companies, “and the bus industry hasn't raised a stink about it.”

A representative of regulatory enforcement agencies said that tools to improve motor carrier compliance and safety should be considered.

“Enforcement is always looking to advance how it does its business, and is experimenting with different technology and software solutions,” Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, told Fleet Owner. “They do a great job now and have done so for quite some time—they were around long before CSA.”

CVSA, however, last November sent its own letter to Fox regarding the public display of CSA data, and asked the agency to remove the scores from public view until certain issues have been addressed.

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