One day the internet will crash, and the world will turn to complete chaos. Today the phone network, the mail system and automobiles all rely on the internet to function. These old school methods of doing business have a modern infrastructure. This article does not critique the use of web-based technology, but the content it delivers. It’s a real problem affecting both trucking and law enforcement, and a mobile app released in March is proof positive.
Reports are coming in all over trucking world about the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) that was held in Louisville, KY at the end of March. There is one common denominator: technology.
This mammoth trucking expo was dominated by new startups offering mobile computing for routing, vehicle performance, truck parking and electronic logs. All of which require the internet.
A couple years ago this blog featured an article call “G.P.(B)S” about how truck GPS systems, as beneficial as they are, can just as easily lead truckers into peril. Not just peril with enforcement, but routing on roads which don’t exist or into bridges with low clearances. It’s a nightmare.
The common ground with current internet solutions flooding the carrier industry is that they are owned, developed and marketed by vendors from private industry. The American free-market dream rests on who can make the best product.
If a truck GPS vendor has a marginal product with bad routing data, the industry will shun it and find a better one. There’s plenty of competition. What happens though when an innovative piece of technology is offered by the federal government, yet it delivers inaccurate information? Who has the alternative?
In March, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released its new (and free) mobile app for iPhone and Droid devices called “QC Mobile”. This app is a window to carrier CSA scores on a mobile device.
The app itself is not the problem. It is very user friendly. It navigates intuitively. It provides the public a ton of investigative information about every carrier with a census number.
The purpose of the app is not wrong either. Whether or not the general public needs to know about carrier safety ratings is up for debate, but there is little doubt police officers, insurers and logistics firms benefit greatly from the data.
The problem is the quality of the data behind the app. Even before the CSA program went live in 2010, there was great concern about how data would be gathered. There are infinite numbers of variables to be considered when assigning a score to a carrier.
Only an unreasonable person would believe that such an undertaking by FMCSA would be without flaws. Rightfully so, grace has been extended as they have honed the system the last five years.
However, the data is still apparently erroneous. With this app, inaccurate scores are now readily available to those who can do damage to the carrier. Insurance companies can choose to deny carriers with bad scores. Logistical firms can choose to not use carriers with bad scores. Police officers can choose to use less discretion with carriers who have bad scores. All at the fingertips of a smartphone.
Is the data really that flawed? This depends on who you talk to. Of course the data on the app is an accurate reflection of the CSA scores, but the data behind the CSA scores is what is at issue.
What has proven to be damning to the app release is a statement from a representative of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a federal agency whose job it is to police their own.
When Susan Fleming, the GAO Director or Physical Infrastructure went on record calling the data “unreliable” after an audit, trucking leadership across the nation exploded.
The American Trucking Association (ATA) called the release of the mobile app “reckless” based on her statement. Similar comments were heard from an unlikely bedfellow to the ATA, the Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association.
So what does this mean for police officers on the street? Well, hopefully police officers will see that QC Mobile, as convenient as it is, probably should not be taken as gospel.
There’s an old adage that police officers should take enforcement based on the action, not the actor. Citations should be issued when good judgment meets the seriousness of the violation itself, not on a safety history which may be tragically flawed.