Deciphering the rating game

What you need to know to keep your fleet out of the penalty boxFor the past several months, we have been exploring how the government assesses safety performance and develops a safety rating for your fleet. As part of our ongoing effort to shine the light on the government's thought processes, we will continue to dissect each of the six factors that go into the safety rating process.We have already

What you need to know to keep your fleet out of the penalty box

For the past several months, we have been exploring how the government assesses safety performance and develops a safety rating for your fleet. As part of our ongoing effort to shine the light on the government's thought processes, we will continue to dissect each of the six factors that go into the safety rating process.

We have already looked at accidents, driver regulations, and vehicle factors. In this issue, we will discuss operational, general, and hazardous-materials factors.

Acute violations (those severe enough to demand immediate corrective action regardless of the firms) include permitting a driver to drive while under the influence of alcohol or within four hours of consuming alcohol.

Critical violations, which indicate a pattern of a breakdown in motor carrier controls, include operating a vehicle not in accordance with state and local laws; scheduling a run that would necessitate speed limit violations; permitting a driver to drive without adequately securing cargo; and failing to preserve supporting documents for six months (toll receipts, fuel receipts, and cellular phone bills, for example).

There are also some infractions that DOT considers twice as reprehensible as critical violations. These include any hours-of-service violation; failure to require completion of driver logs or permitting false logs; and failure to preserve driver logs for six months.

Acute violations that fall into the "general" category include operating a vehicle without the minimum amount of insurance ($750,000). This applies to all motor carriers, with the exception of those hauling hazardous materials, where minimum insurance jumps to $5-million.

Making false statements or reproducing false documents are also considered acute violations. A critical violation would include failing to maintain proof of financial responsibility (MCS 90 Form) or failing to maintain copies of accident reports.

The last factor to consider is a carrier's ability to comply with regulations governing hazardous-materials transportation. Acute violations includes transporting poison products and foodstuffs in the same trailer.

Critical violations in this category include:

* Parking vehicles that transport hazardous materials within 5 ft. of the roadway;

* Smoking within 25 ft. of explosives or flammables;

* Failing to provide an emergency response guide;

* Operating a vehicle without a written route plan;

* Failing to give immediate incident notification;

* Failing to make written incident reports;

* Failing to train employees;

* Transporting materials without proper papers or placarding;

* Failing to re-certify cargo tanks.

Keep in mind that to achieve an overall safety rating of satisfactory, a fleet must have no more than two conditional ratings among the six individual factors.

A conditional rating is earned when a carrier receives more than two conditionals, or one unsatisfactory rating coupled with at most one conditional rating.

An unsatisfactory rating is given when a carrier has either one unsatisfactory rating plus more than two conditionals, or two unsatisfactory ratings.

The latest DOT figures show that motor carriers are more frequently troubled by non-compliance with operational factors than with those that fall into either the general or hazardous-materials category. Thirty-two percent were rated unsatisfactory or conditional on operational factors; general and hazardous-materials non-compliance was 3.2% and 7.4%, respectively.

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