FMCSA Proposes Federal Appeals Process for DataQs Requests: A Step Toward Improved Due Process


Published June 22, 2023

In a significant development, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has announced its intention to introduce a federal appeals process for Requests for Data Review (RDRs) submitted through its DataQs system. This proposal marks a substantial shift in the agency’s approach to handling data quality disputes and represents a crucial step toward enhancing due process within the system.

The need for reform in the DataQs review process became apparent in early 2021 when Overdrive highlighted glaring due process issues within the system. Subsequently, in the spring of 2022, an FMCSA data-quality manager hinted at the agency’s intent to revamp the process to ensure greater fairness and transparency.

The DataQs System

Currently, the responsibility for reviewing and resolving RDRs in the DataQs system lies with individual states. Carriers can use DataQs to request a review of data within the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) and provide supporting documentation if applicable. Depending on the nature of the request, the review is routed to the relevant DataQs program office, which can be a state agency, an FMCSA field office, or FMCSA headquarters.

Upon receiving a decision from the initial review, carriers have the option to appeal, known as an “RDR Reconsideration.” This appeal can follow the same path as the initial review or take a different route, depending on the circumstances. However, stakeholders in the trucking industry have expressed growing concerns about the existing system, including the need for an independent appeal process.

The Proposed Federal Appeals Process

With the announcement on September 14, FMCSA has unveiled its plan for an appeal process for third-stage DataQs reviews. This process will come into play when requests for changes to violations, crashes, or other information have been rejected at least twice, whether by state or federal authorities.

Under this proposal, DataQs users will have the opportunity to initiate a request for an FMCSA appeal, but only after both the initial review and the RDR Reconsideration have been denied. Crucially, all information and documents submitted to FMCSA will be contained within the DataQs review record itself. Parties involved will not be allowed to introduce new facts or evidence during this third and final appeal request.

Limitations on Appeal

FMCSA intends to limit the scope of reviews accepted for FMCSA appeal to matters of “significant legal interpretation or implementation of enforcement policies or regulations.” Requests that involve factual disputes between parties will not typically qualify for review through the FMCSA appeal process. Furthermore, reviews submitted to the Crash Preventability Determination Program and petitions to the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse will not be eligible for an FMCSA appeal.

Impact on External Procedures

While the proposed appeal process does not directly apply to regulatory procedures external to DataQs, such as requests for safety rating upgrades or appeals of registration rejections, FMCSA has noted that the decisions resulting from these appeals could be used by affected parties in external procedures.

Finality of Appeal Determinations

If FMCSA accepts an appeal, the determination made as a result of the appeal will be considered final, according to the terms of the proposal. This aims to bring closure to disputes and ensure a clear resolution.

Enhancing Second-Tier Reviews

The agency also plans to issue new requirements for second-tier reviews conducted by state and federal program offices. These requirements may include measures to guarantee that each reconsideration request is assessed by a different reviewer than the one who conducted the initial review, thus further bolstering the fairness of the process.

The FMCSA’s proposal for a federal appeals process for DataQs requests is a welcome step toward addressing due process concerns within the system. By providing carriers with a mechanism for appealing decisions and setting clear limitations on the types of cases that can be appealed, the agency aims to strike a balance between efficiency and fairness. As this proposal moves forward, it has the potential to significantly improve the transparency and accountability of the DataQs system, benefiting both carriers and regulators alike.