A vision for visibility

When was the last time a driver called to announce that he had just been pulled over for speeding? Probably the same day a customer called to say that you overlooked a detention charge.

Few workers in any industry voluntarily disclose their misdeeds, but few industries are like trucking. The vast majority of truck drivers perform most of their duties beyond the direct observation of their supervisors or peers.

Federal regulations require motor carriers to pull and review drivers’ motor vehicle records (MVRs) at least once a year. While it’s certainly important to know that your driver committed several major moving violations during the last 12 months, you might have been able to intervene earlier and correct bad habits – or terminate the driver, if necessary.

That’s the idea behind a new proposal from the American Trucking Associations. ATA last month asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for regulatory changes to encourage motor carriers to use state-administered or commercial information systems that would report traffic violation convictions immediately. At least 10 states – Arkansas, California, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia and Wisconsin – operate these programs, which are known as employer notification systems (ENS). At least one commercial provider, USIS, has launched an ENS for trucking operations.

By registering its drivers with an ENS, a motor carrier could receive a notice when a driver receives a traffic violation, conviction or disqualification for a commercial driver’s license. That could allow the trucking company to act on this information months before the annual MVRs. Carriers, of course, could run MVRs more often, and some do. But that’s an expensive proposition. One disincentive to participation in an ENS today is the fact that carriers still would have to pull and review MVRs annually. So ATA is asking that FMCSA allow participation in an ENS as an alternative to the annual inquiry.

By regulation, drivers must report to their carriers any traffic violation conviction within 30 days, but everyone knows few do it. How few? One ATA member that participated in a pilot commercial ENS last year reported that its 3,500 drivers received 343 violations, convictions or loss of license privileges between June and November. Nearly 70 percent were unreported by the drivers within the mandatory timeframe.

Faster notification of traffic violations and CDL disqualifications is just one move toward greater visibility into driver performance. Another is the Driver Information Resource (DIR), an FMCSA initiative that allows for Web-based inquiries into individual driver safety performance. While the ENS programs currently in place address traffic violations and CDL status, the DIR addresses two other big safety issues: crashes and inspections.

Currently, the DIR is available only to FMCSA and state law enforcement personnel. But legislation enacted as part of the 2005 highway program authorization requires that FMCSA make this information available to motor carriers. FMCSA reportedly plans to make good on that mandate by yearend, but there is no guarantee.

Another important piece of safety information is the driver’s medical condition. FMCSA is proposing to merge medical certification requirements with the CDL process. As part of its comments on that proposal, ATA suggests that carriers have access to an online electronic system to monitor driver medical qualifications.

You don’t need regulatory changes or access to new databases to improve your knowledge, however. By investing in more frequent MVR checks or leveraging data available from engine electronics and satellite positioning, you can learn more about your drivers today. Carriers can improve their safety programs with greater and timelier insights into their drivers’ performance, but more information also brings accountability. The more you learn about your drivers’ bad habits, the more you need to incorporate that information into your day-to-day management of driver safety.