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How to successfully dispute violations with DataQs

Almost every motor carrier that has been around for any length of time has likely been hit with violations during a roadside inspection. In fact, of the 2.8 million federal and state roadside inspections conducted last year, nearly 59% resulted in a violation, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data. 

There are bound to be circumstances in which violations are unjustified and warrant further investigation. When carriers, drivers or their representatives think a violation could be inaccurate, they should submit a request through DataQs to get it removed.

DataQs is an FMCSA system that lets users submit requests for the agency to review state or federal data they believe to be incomplete or incorrect. According to the FMCSA, in addition to data from inspections, it can be used to dispute crash data for commercial motor vehicles involved in a reportable crash, investigations, registration data, and even data found in complaints against household goods carriers.

DataQs is an important way for the FMCSA to maintain accurate data and for motor carriers and drivers to have a way to remove inaccurate violations from their Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores. 

Mark Barlar, director of Department of Transportation regulatory compliance at Reliance Partners and a former Wisconsin State Patrol officer, shared what carriers and drivers should know before they submit their first DataQs request.

A request needs a solid basis

While users can submit as many DataQs requests as they want, a request will automatically be rejected if it has no basis, said Barlar. During his career as an officer, he spent time responding to DataQs and said that some requests are more well-founded than others.

To have a leg to stand on, requests need to show there was an exception to the law or the law wasn’t complied with correctly or an interpretation states more information was needed and the inspecting officer couldn’t provide it.

Something that has no basis could be, for example, if a company received a violation for a flat tire, gets it fixed after the inspection and then asks the state to change the violation.

“In this case, the inspector saw they had a flat tire, and they documented it on the inspection report, so there’s no basis for it to be removed,” Barlar said.

On the flip side, a situation that may warrant further digging could involve an exception to the law, such as a violation received for a cracked windshield. In the inspection report, the inspector may document something like “Windshield is cracked all the way across the driver’s view.” While the law states the window has to be damage-free, it also notes there are some exceptions to this, with one being that it is not a violation unless there is an intersecting crack as well. When filing the DataQs request, the company may state that there wasn’t an intersecting crack, so therefore it believes the violation isn’t valid.

“Normally what’ll happen is you submit a request for data review, and the state will go back to the inspecting officer who will review their notes and pictures,” Barlar explained.

That officer could, in this example, review the pictures and determine that there was an intersecting crack so the violation stands. Or, the officer may determine that there wasn’t an intersecting crack. In that case, the violation would be removed and those points would be removed from that carrier’s CSA score.

While the DataQs system is there for carriers and drivers to help remove inaccurate violations, Barlar advises not using it more than necessary.

“Don’t use DataQs for everything. You’re going to waste a lot of time and the government’s time. When you’re doing a DataQs request, be nice and professional. When you start being unprofessional, people quit listening,” he said.

When to expect a response

How states handle DataQs requests can vary. In some states, certified law enforcement officers review requests, whereas in others a committee or somebody else performs that function.

In certain states, you may also need written permission from the motor carrier to conduct a request. Other states may send out letters to agencies that did the inspection, which is a more formal review process.

Based on how busy the state is, it can take varying amounts of time to finish the review. The FMCSA says its goal is for the submitter to receive a response in 10 days. However, Barlar said he’s seen it take anywhere from one week to three months.

Preparing to submit a DataQs request

To be successful with DataQs, those submitting a request need to understand the laws surrounding the violations they may have received so they can bring only requests that have merit.

Carriers and drivers can start with their roadside inspection reports, which will list the violations and the relevant section of the law. They can look up the law within the Federal Motor Carrier Regulations and determine for themselves if there is a basis to remove the violation with DataQs.

Barlar also recommends carriers become members of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. While it is not a government agency, the nonprofit organization brings together government and industry to come up with inspection procedures, operational policies and rules, and out-of-service criteria to create greater uniformity. Operational policies are similar to interpretations of laws, which can be helpful for carriers as they submit DataQs.

“It’s a very good organization to get involved with. You will also find information in their operational policies on how inspections are conducted and if certain types of violations are no longer violations,” Barlar said.

Finally, he advises first-time submitters that if they work for the motor carrier, they must associate their account with that motor carrier.

“That way you’re able to see every DataQs request that is done for that company. You can still get registered to do DataQs for that motor carrier, but you won’t be able to see the other requests from the company except yours,” he added.

If you need help with DataQs, Reliance Partners has an experienced safety team that will handle DataQs for its insurance partner clients. Reliance Partners does this as a service to help clients become safer motor carriers and to make sure that the data collected from roadside inspection reports is accurate.

More information about DataQs can be found at the DataQs help center, including information about registration and supporting documents.

Click here to learn more about Reliance Partners.

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