Watchdogs say federal crash data has improved

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While the quality of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s truck crash data has improved, it still has a ways to go, according to the Government Accountability Office. The GAO, the congressional investigative arm that examines public funding, issued a report Sunday, Nov. 20 following a Senate request that it evaluate the FMCSA program for helping states improve truck crash data. That evaluation noted the Department of Transportation agreed with the report.

The Senate also requested the GAO address issues raised in the DOT Inspector General 2004 report on the Motor Carrier Safety Status Measurement System, or SafeStat. The FMCSA uses SafeStat to identify high-risk motor carriers so the agency can focus resources better in compliance reviews and enforcement action. The OIG had noted that the quality of data being fed into SafeStat was poor; the FMCSA has removed key data elements from the public Internet site until it improves.

In response to recommendations in that 2004 report, the agency developed the State Safety Data Quality map, considered a tool for rating states’ data quality. The GAO stated the FMCSA should develop an assessment and improvement plan for the map’s methodology and should furnish a crash-specific data rating and limitations of the map on its website. While the map is useful, the office GAO said the methodology problems could result to false conclusions about the extent of improvements states have made.

The FMCSA’s other program that awards grants to help states improve truck crash reporting also appears beneficial, the GAO said. Through the data improvement program for states, FMCSA has provided nearly $21 million in discretionary grants to states from 2002 to 2005, and has helped states improve their data. The GAO did not find problems with FMCSA’s oversight of the program, but said the agency needs formal guidelines for awarding the grants.

According to FMCSA, as of fiscal year 2004 nearly one-third of truck crashes that states are required to report to federal officials went unreported; those that were reported were not always accurate, timely or consistent.