The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced its plan for opening the U.S. border to carriers domiciled in Mexico, spelling out a number of provisions and requirements for everyone involved. (See FO, April '02, p. 9.)

This border opening has required FMCSA to make a tremendous investment in technologies and information systems designed for cross-border applications, including some that will dramatically improve the ability of roadside enforcement officers to access driver, vehicle and carrier safety data.

Query Central (QC) is one such system being ramped up for cross-border safety oversight, and from my perspective, it represents the future in truck safety enforcement.

The FMCSA web site describes it as “a third generation intelligent query system designed to dramatically increase access to motor carrier safety information for State and Federal law enforcement personnel.” It provides real-time access to driver, vehicle, and motor carrier information, combining the functions of the Inspection Selection System; U.S., Canadian, and Mexican Commercial Driver License Information System; Past Inspection Query; PRISM sanctioned carriers list; Licensing & Insurance database; and the Mexican SCT carrier database.

Initial rollout is scheduled to take place at high-volume cross-border sites; it will be available nationwide this fall.

Here's how QC works. When a border-based officer is trying to investigate the safety history of a driver entering the U.S., he enters the driver's-license number into a secure, web-based information portal. Seconds later, license status, a 10-yr. history of traffic convictions, and roadside inspection reports from the previous 60-days appears.

Most important, all of the driver's information is accessed, not just that related to one carrier. Inspectors could determine whether or not drivers are working for multiple fleets.

Vehicle-based queries work the same way. When a VIN or plate number is entered, registration status and roadside inspection reports for the previous 60-day period are accessed.

Carrier data can be retrieved by name, U.S. DOT number, MC/MX number, or Mexican Carrier Registration number. The system provides a real-time listing of driver and vehicle out-of-service rates, SafeStat and ISS values, past violation history, and licensing and insurance data. In addition, it provides access to all roadside inspections within the previous 60-day period.

I asked one FMCSA official to take off his enforcement hat and think about the value of such a tool for fleet managers. The response was quick and sure: “This would give carrier management a way to monitor the company's overall safety status, as well as the safety performance of their individual drivers and vehicles.”

That's precisely my point. But the current system, and rightly so, has been optimized for roadside enforcement. What are the challenges involved in making this a tool that carriers could use as well?

First and foremost is the issue of privacy. One developer pointed out that privacy rules dictate that they prevent companies from obtaining information about competitors' drivers.

The second issue has to do with FMCSA resources. Make no doubt about it, public access to QC is a huge undertaking. The banking industry's rollout of the ATM network is a good analogy. Just think about all the programming, access codes, and hardware support that went into that process. That's the level of commitment needed here.

And we can't ignore the fact that states rely on revenue from MVR reports. Give carriers access to a 10-yr. CDLIS history and that revenue stream disappears.

These are big challenges. But as industry professionals, we cannot walk away. The potential payoffs in improved truck safety are just too big. We must offer real and workable ways to help FMCSA resolve these concerns.

Jim York is the manager of Zurich North America's Risk Engineering Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.