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FMCSR Week 5: Reporting

Access is privilege.  Privilege is trust.  A teenager gets a job at the local hardware store and is issued keys to open cabinets with high value items.  He is being trusted with a privileged access necessary for job performance.  Police officers have privileged access to classified databases on criminal histories, driver/motor vehicle records, and premise information.  They swear an oath to only use this info for official purposes…the public places trust in them.  However, simply being placed in a position of trust does not always guarantee equal privileged access among law enforcement agencies.  This is the case with the Illinois State Police and their ability to input motor carrier inspection data into a national database.  Local police do not have this access.

The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) is a funding mechanism of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to provide States and local jurisdictions funds to perform commercial motor vehicle safety initiatives.  The FMCSA designates a lead state agency to manage their MCSAP funding.  In Illinois, MCSAP dollars initially flow through the Illinois Department of Transportation and are then disbursed to the Illinois State Police CVEO program and their own IDOT programs as described by statute in 625 ILCS 5/18b-100.  These programs and their funding are built on enforcement of the FMCSR.

When ISP troopers perform a motor carrier inspection under the standards of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, data is collected and entered into a uniform computer database called ASPEN.  Data from the inspection may yield violations, but it also will report lack of violations.  Violations of the FMCSR are gathered and tracked by IDOT, and IDOT will audit and assess fines to trucking companies based on their histories.

In order to provide fair and uniform enforcement, trucks that pass motor carrier inspections have CVSA stickers placed on the windows.  These stickers, while valid, serve as notice to other inspectors nationwide that this truck has recently passed an inspection and other inspectors should not re-inspect them unless there is a special circumstance.  This is important because a fleet with a 3,000 trucks has greater chances of being inspected than a company with a fleet of 10 trucks.

After data passes through IDOT, it is transmitted onto the FMCSA who compiles a safety rating for each company.  This system is now called “CSA” which stands for Compliance-Safety-Accountability.  This program is not without controversy, but the point is there is one uniform clearinghouse for FMCSR data nationwide.

So how does all this information prove local Illinois police have no authority to enforce the FMCSR?  The answer is uniformity.

A local police officer attempting to investigate violations of the FMCSR may very well find some actual FMCSR violations.  However, the best he can do is “shoehorn” these violations into the IVC (see next week’s article) under state code.  These violations do not make it into the federal database, therefore usurping the designated protocol the federal government has set up to report violations.  The uniform reporting of violations into CSA is critical to detection of companies that are unsafe.

At the same time, the local police officer cannot enter exonerating data into the CSA system to show that a carrier has passed an inspection.  In the eyes of the trucking community, a stop and inspection by the police deserves to be treated uniformly.  The trucker without any violations may not receive any citations, but there is no mark in the CSA system that he has passed muster.  Further down the road an ISP trooper may stop him and perform the exact same inspection and again clear the driver/company of any violations, but the damage is done.  The driver and the company have now been stopped twice, exonerated twice, yet only reported once.  If time is money for a trucking business, the police ought not to waste their time by not giving credit when credit is due.

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