Prime case resurrects satellite data issue

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As part of an appeal by Prime Inc. to its conditional safety rating, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is reexamining the issue of when and how to use satellite tracking data during audits. FMCSA refused to reinstate Prime’s satisfactory rating pending review, but Prime asked a federal appeals court to overturn that decision.

The American Trucking Associations urged FMCSA in late October to conclude that satellite data is not appropriate for use in audits. It cited a Qualcomm official’s statement that the OmniTRACS system, which Prime uses, was not designed for or intended to be used for log verification. In addition, ATA urged FMCSA to suspend the use of satellite data in compliance reviews until a rulemaking on supporting documents is launched and completed.

Faced with a conditional rating last year, Prime accepted a consent agreement with FMCSA to maintain its satisfactory rating. It allowed FMCSA to use Prime’s Qualcomm data to help determine whether the carrier had successfully implemented its Safety Management Plan.

Although Prime’s rate of falsified logs for a select group of drivers improved significantly in an initial review, a follow-up a few months later showed deterioration. FMCSA’s Midwest office declared that Prime was not in compliance with the consent decree and reinstated the conditional rating, effective Oct. 28, 2002.

Prime argues, among other things, that FMCSA violated its own policy by using satellite data in the initial audit and that it coerced Prime into accepting FMCSA access to its satellite data as a condition of keeping its satisfactory safety rating. Prime contends that it does not fall under one of FMCSA’s exceptions to its policy, which states that the agency will not routinely use satellite tracking data to verify logs in compliance reviews.

Prime also argues that even if FMCSA had a basis for seeking its data, it’s unfair to apply the same thresholds for deficiency that would apply for audits based on traditional supporting documents, such as fuel or toll receipts. Those represent snapshots, while satellite data subjects a carrier to much closer scrutiny, Prime contends. FMCSA’s own policy makes that very point, Prime says. (FMCSA Docket No. 13664)