Well-run fleets want roadside inspections since good reports have a positive impact on CSA scores.

Roadside inspections on the fly

July 2, 2014
E-inspections could improve CSA scores, productivity and driver satisfaction

Bypassing weigh stations and paying tolls without stopping are common everyday experiences for many fleet trucks, but what if that same “no-touch” experience could be extended to roadside inspections?  The technology already exists that could satisfy federal standards for basic credential checks, and automating that process could offer major benefits for well-run fleets.  But before e-inspections become as widespread as bypass systems, there are important policy issues that have to be faced by both trucking businesses and regulators.

So, just what is an e-inspection?  It starts with a way to transmit information from a moving truck to those conducting roadside checks.  PrePass and other bypass systems use a dedicated transponder, while newer technology providers like Drivewyze employ software loaded to an onboard computer, smartphone or tablet.

For bypass purposes, the information includes carrier and vehicle data typically collected by a weigh station or state entry portal.  An e-inspection would add driver elements such as CDL information and hours-of-service records as well as carrier-related safety information like its history of out-of-service violations.  This additional data would make an e-inspection equivalent to a CVSA Level 3 roadside credentials inspection, but with one important difference. 

Inspections are currently conducted by state enforcement agents, whose individual vehicle reports are then forwarded to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.  FMCSA must then check the data for accuracy and enter it into the Motor Carrier Management and Information System (MCMIS) for use in the agency’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) and Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores.  States conduct 3.6 million physical truck inspections a year, and it now takes an average of 8.9 days for a report to make its way to FMCSA, according to Dr. Kelly Leone, the CIO for FMCSA’s Office of Research and Information Technology.  With e-inspections, that data would be transmitted in near real-time, she said during a recent panel discussion at the ALK Transportation Technology Summit.


E-inspections would also deliver another important advantage for fleets, according to another panelist, Drivewyze founder and CEO Brian Heath.  CSA scores are only calculated after a fleet receives a minimum or threshold number of inspections.  With approximately 13,000 inspectors conducting CVSA inspections across the country, they only look at one in every 200 trucks passing through an inspection site and so tend to skip equipment from fleets with good safety reputations or that looks to be in good shape.  And that means fleets working to achieve good CSA scores are not getting “good inspection” reports fed into FMCSA.

“As a result, 89% of carriers don’t have a full [CSA] profile,” Heath said.  “There’s not enough data with the manual process to get CSA scores that reflect a carrier’s actual safety status.”

Automating at least the Level 3 inspection process has the potential to exponentially increase the amount of data collected, potentially growing to 1.2 billion safety messages a year being received by FMCSA, according to Leone.

“We want to be inspected,” said the panel’s fleet representative, Jim Coffren of Hirschbach Motor Lines.  “We invest heavily in safety and that’s one way to get [CSA] recognition for that investment.  We go so far as to pay drivers bonuses for turning in good, clean inspection reports.”

Not only are well-run fleets likely to be waved through a roadside inspection, but if they are stopped to generate that good report, it carries a business cost.  “We estimate that [each stop] costs us 15 to 20 minutes in lost productivity and one gallon of fuel,” he said.  “Over time, that adds up.”

FMCSA has already built prototype systems capable of receiving wireless data from trucks and producing inspection reports for both the inspectors and drivers, Leone said.  And in 2012 it began an expanded field operations test with 1,000 trucks running in five states to address questions about scalability, data management and privacy.  That research, however, isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2017.

According to Heath, one potential problem with that project, which is known as the wireless roadside initiative, is that it focuses on creating a dedicated in-vehicle transponder and weigh station technology instead of a software approach like that developed by his company, Drivewyze.  “It didn’t anticipate industry leapfrogging it in terms of technology,” he told Fleet Owner.

And even more technology opportunities—and accompanying complications—are emerging quickly when it comes to e-inspections.  Sensors already installed on trucks and used in advanced systems like remote diagnostics could enable remote CVSA Level 1, or mechanical inspections, Heath said.  “Certain elements of a Level 1 are possible now without special transponders.”  Theoretically an e-inspection could look at actual truck conditions, though handling sensors and data streams from a variety of vehicles could make that complicated, he pointed out.


But in the immediate future, the most significant roadblock to quick adoption of e-inspections is that “the technology is ahead of policy,” Heath told Fleet Owner.  “The platform is out there to exchange that data.  They’ve demonstrated the ability to transmit all the data elements of a Level 3 inspection [from a truck] and to populate an inspection report that can be transmitted to FMCSA.  But that still leaves the bigger question—what does FMCSA do with these reports?”

One thorny policy issue not yet addressed is the question of privacy.  Not only would driver names, dates of birth, CDL numbers, and other personal identifiers be included in the e-inspection transmission, but it’s conceivable that results from a proposed drug and alcohol testing clearinghouse might be part of those records once FMCSA finalizes the rules governing that clearinghouse.  “We take protecting privacy very seriously,” said Leone.

For Heath and Coffren, a key element to any e-inspection policy is that participation be voluntary.  “We’re encouraged to see [regulators] moving beyond demanding things and letting us realize positive returns for investing in things like safety platforms,” said Coffren.  “We’d welcome voluntary participation in an e-inspection program.”

Bypass systems are a good example of voluntary compliance that has worked well for over 20 years because there are rewards and benefits for all sides, Heath pointed out.  “We should create a rewards-based [e-inspection] program that incentivizes participation, that leaves it up to carriers and individual drivers what data they share and who gets to see it,” he said.  “The voluntary approach could make e-inspection a success.”

“From the agency perspective, safety is our number-one priority,” said Leone.  “We believe that using technology so we can touch more carriers in the inspection process will further improve safety.  I encourage anyone who wants to ... come to Washington and talk to us.  We’re open to any ideas.”

About the Author

Jim Mele

Nationally recognized journalist, author and editor, Jim Mele joined Fleet Owner in 1986 with over a dozen years’ experience covering transportation as a newspaper reporter and magazine staff writer. Fleet Owner Magazine has won over 45 national editorial awards since his appointment as editor-in-chief in 1999.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of FleetOwner, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Report: The 2024 State of Heavy-Duty Repair

From capitalizing on the latest revenue trends to implementing strategic financial planning—this report serves as a roadmap for navigating the challenges and opportunities of ...

Fleet Industry Benchmarks: How does your fleet stack up?

Discover how your fleet compares to industry benchmarks and gain insights from a 2024 Benchmarking Report on maintenance spend, turnaround time, and more. Join us to identify ...

Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees and Risks

Fleets looking to effectively manage their operational costs should consider their tolling costs. Download the PrePass whitepaper, “Build a Tolling Program to Manage Toll Fees...

Reducing CSA Violations & Increasing Safety With Advanced Trailer Telematics

Keep the roads safer with advanced trailer telematics. In this whitepaper, see how you can gain insights that lead to increased safety and reduced roadside incidents—keeping drivers...