In the early days of FMCSA's Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, the vehicle maintenance BASIC proved to be the most troublesome for many motor carriers. This isn't particularly surprising as vehicle-related defects frequently top the annual violation lists released by FMCSA.
Maintenance issues can also cause driver retention problems. Vehicle defect and maintenance violations now go on a driver's CSA score as well as the carrier's. If a fleet becomes a frequent target of inspectors, it becomes even more likely that its drivers will get flagged for other CSA issues such as logbook violations. If maintenance issues bring the unwanted eye of inspectors more frequently, drivers are likely to look elsewhere for employment.
Maintenance issues are often more of a problem for LTL carriers that routinely run older equipment, according to Don Orr, president of Waco, TX-based LTL carrier Central Freight Lines.
Orr says another issue making it difficult for carriers to comply with the CSA maintenance BASIC is erratic inspections. “The quality of the inspectors can vary widely from locale to locale,” he says. Orr says his company spends an inordinate amount of time protesting bogus violations to keep the fleet's and drivers' CSA scores low.
To keep CSA scores low, fleets are upping driver training on inspections and increasing communications to ensure drivers are watching for maintenance problems and getting them addressed before violations occur.
“It all comes down to having drivers who do a good pretrip and fixing problems as soon as they happen. Something you don't fix today will only get worse tomorrow,” says Lance Craig, CEO of Craig Transportation, Perrysburg, OH.
“We have to bust these guys a little bit if they get a maintenance violation. If we find out something was wrong on a trailer two days ago and they didn't notify us, the drivers need to know they will get a call from an unhappy safety director when that trailer gets a violation. We need to rely on the driver's eyes,” he says.
Max Fuller, co-chairman at Chattanooga, TN-based U.S. Xpress, says that drivers need to be properly trained on equipment inspections and need to know “if your equipment's not right, don't take it out.”
U.S. Xpress has stepped up vehicle inspection efforts to avoid having drivers stopped and tagged for maintenance issues. The fleet would previously do trailer inspections about once a year, but now trailers are being thoroughly looked at two or three times a year, Fuller says.
The fleet is also training drivers to be alert to the most typical CSA violation issues — brakes, tires and lights — in their pretrip inspections.
To stay off FMCSA's radar, carriers must meet all of their vehicle maintenance requirements on an ongoing basis, according to Foley Carrier Services, a company specializing in DOT compliance. Foley suggests carriers follow these steps to improve their rankings in the vehicle maintenance BASIC.
Ensure drivers conduct daily pretrip and post-trip inspections. Make sure they complete the Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) every day. Educate drivers about the importance of the DVIR.
Let your drivers know that their reputation is also on the line. Many vehicle maintenance violations, such as lighting, tire and some brake issues, count against both the carrier and driver. Make sure that your drivers know that CSA raises the safety bar for them too.
Correct any problems noted on the DVIR as soon as possible.
Pay close attention to lighting, brake and tire defects. These are the big three on FMCSA's annual vehicle violation list. Since they are easy to spot, lighting defects are often the impetus for a roadside inspection.
Document, document, document. Complete all required inspections and repairs, and keep detailed records.