I have some things to say. But first, please read my disclaimer:
This column is based on information and assumptions that may or may not be correct. Although the author has made every reasonable effort to ensure the accuracy of this information, the reader should verify any statement before acting on it. The intent of this column is to convey the personal opinion of the author and in no way should be used for any other purpose whatsoever. Any similarity between the author’s observations and reality is purely coincidental. In fact, you might consider turning the page at this point.
There. Now, let’s talk about SafeStat, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s data-driven analysis system used to measure the relative safety fitness of carriers.
In recent years, the trucking industry has grown increasingly concerned over the SafeStat system and, especially, public disclosure of the data. For example, third parties, such as insurers, plaintiffs’ attorneys and shippers, have begun using SafeStat for purposes other than enforcement. Updating work done five years ago, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently completed an investigation of SafeStat and submitted its draft report to FMCSA for comment. The OIG says it plans to release the report to the public “in the near future.”
Perhaps in anticipation of the renewed scrutiny, FMCSA in January added a new disclaimer to the website (http://ai.volpe.dot.gov) that hosts SafeStat Online. Before you can access SafeStat data on motor carriers you must click through a statement under the heading “Caution Urged in the Use of SafeStat Data.” The page first describes the purpose of SafeStat, which is to help FMCSA quantify and monitor the safety status of individual motor carriers so the agency can best focus enforcement resources on carriers posing the greatest potential safety risk.
FMCSA then points out that states vary in their adherence to the deadlines for submitting crash and roadside inspection data. “Accordingly, SafeStat’s ability to accurately and objectively assess the safety fitness of individual motor carriers may be inconsistent and not conclusive without additional analysis.”
A further warning follows. “Because of State data variations, FMCSA cautions those who seek to use the SafeStat data analysis system in ways not intended by FMCSA. Please be aware that use of SafeStat for purposes other than identifying and prioritizing carriers for FMCSA and state safety improvement and enforcement programs may produce unintended results and not be suitable for certain uses.” FMCSA doesn’t elaborate.
SafeStat Online previously displayed a pop-up warning stating that inaccurate or out-of-date normalizing data can skew SafeStat results. That caution now sits at the bottom of pages containing data on individual carriers.
I don’t fault FMCSA for relying on a SafeStat system that’s less than perfect. Getting all states to provide complete, accurate and timely crash and inspection data is and will be a monumental task. Used solely for targeting enforcement resources, SafeStat may be an acceptable tool, warts and all. My beef is with dissemination of knowingly flawed data to the public. You can throw up all the disclaimers in the world, and people will ignore them. But public use of that potentially flawed data can have real consequences for carriers.
What FMCSA really seems to be saying with all its disclaimers is that SafeStat isn’t appropriate for public consumption. But self-appointed safety advocates would slam the agency mercilessly if it pulled SafeStat Online off the Internet. And yet, until FMCSA fixes the system, that’s precisely what fairness dictates.