A long overdue reform will now allow drivers and motor carriers to be able to “set the record straight” as it relates to their traffic offenses.
In the past, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) accepted state-generated traffic offense citations which were uploaded to its Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) database which collects carrier and driver safety performance data.
These unadjudicated offenses remained on the driver’s record even if the ticket was eventually dismissed or if the driver was found not guilty. For years, the industry had urged FMCSA to recognize the unfairness in maintaining these citations on the record regardless of final court disposition.
Citing the difficulty in correcting information from several thousands of these daily events, FMCSA reasoned that receiving a citation suggested the driver had committed some type of traffic offense otherwise the citation would not have been issued and so recording the event in MCMIS was not unjust. The problem was, though, that once the citation was dealt with by the court, the system did not reflect that a duly appointed court official had subsequently decided the citation should be either dismissed or reduced in severity.
Fundamentally, in the United States where the accused has a right to argue his/her position with the court, this policy of not removing dismissed citations was another perceived injustice to the trucking and bus communities. More importantly, the failure to correct the record became all the more important since the offense affected the driver’s safety performance record as reflected in the CSA enforcement system making the carrier’s unsafe driving BASIC measure potentially misleading to shippers, brokers and insurers. Carriers are acutely aware of how an incorrect record about its safety condition can influence customer choice about whether to hire it to ship its goods or carry its passengers.
Details on the change
Beginning August 23, FMCSA will now permit drivers/motor carriers to request the states where the citation was issued and adjudicated, to accept the outcome of their court case. The states then will be expected to correct the specific traffic record which will then correct the national MCMIS database.
Trouble is, the driver/motor carrier will have to get this correction done themselves by notifying the states through the often vilified Data Q system. The DataQ program is the only way to get a state-issued record corrected since a state law enforcement official issued the citation or roadside inspection report. While the ability to correct the record is a long overdue reform, regrettably the system places the onus on the driver/motor carrier to act on its own behalf, rather than assuming the state court system would communicate with the state DataQ officials to mandate this correction.
In most states, this notification process between state agencies does not exist. For many years, the federal and state governments have recognized this problem and have tried to find effective ways to ensure the adjudication system is harmonized within the state’s traffic records program. Like many good ideas, the solutions require resources and the political will to address the problem.
As we know, the DataQ system has been criticized for its many flaws especially the lack of uniform practices, delays in state response and, in some cases, intractable decision making by certain states. More work by USDOT and state officials to improve the traffic records system to provide for nationwide consistent policies and practices and sensible conversion of statutory differences in state traffic laws need to continue.
For now, this first step is welcomed.