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Safety compliance: Is your fleet satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory?

Nov. 17, 2020
By keeping up with FMCSA’s safety guidelines, a fleet is more likely to receive a positive safety record and stay on the road.

Every month this column shares information to help motor carriers and their drivers stay safe and compliant. My primary goal is to improve highway safety and protect everyone on the road. Another goal is to help fleets attain or retain a good safety record that qualifies them for participation in a weigh station bypass program.

The fact is, not every motor carrier improves its safety practices or record. When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sees a negative safety trend from a motor carrier – repeated hours of service (HOS) violations, roadside inspection reports of defective equipment, drug and alcohol violations – and especially when crash investigations suggest poor management controls, FMCSA may launch a compliance review (CR). Investigators may conduct a “targeted” CR, examining one area of safety compliance, such as HOS, or they may take a “comprehensive” approach and look into all areas of the motor carrier.

The compliance review results in a safety rating for the carrier: satisfactory, conditional or unsatisfactory. A satisfactory rating says that the motor carrier is sufficiently compliant with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to continue to operate. The conditional rating is a probationary status where the carrier exhibits poor safety controls and must improve to continue operations. FMCSA will watch for that improvement. A carrier rated as unsatisfactory has severe shortcomings that require immediate correction. That unsatisfactory carrier cannot operate until those severe violations are fixed.

What are the top reasons for a motor carrier to earn an unsatisfactory rating? FMCSA records show that it’s not just one thing… it’s usually a bundle of violations. That bundle of violations often triggers the compliance review in the first place. A CR is the only way a safety rating can be issued.

A motor carrier has no reason to be surprised. FMCSA gives fair warning. The carrier can go online at FMCSA and check its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) safety percentile ranking. That CSA score is built on seven BASICs (Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories), where FMCSA examines areas of a company’s safety and regulatory compliance.

In each BASIC the carrier will see its own ranking compared to similar operations. When the carrier’s ranking in any BASIC gets too high, FMCSA places an “alert” in that category. That tells the motor carrier that improvement in that category is needed and that a compliance review may be on the way. FMCSA looks especially close at the Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator and Hours of Service Compliance BASICs, with HOS being the most important.

Any motor carrier can improve its safety performance (FMCSA does not have a “no improvement possible” safety rating). Improvement starts with paying attention to the BASICs. Improvement opportunities do, however, have an endpoint. If the FMCSA finds a carrier’s safety behavior over the top and life-threatening, it issues a federal order declaring the carrier an “imminent hazard.” For that carrier, it’s goodbye.


Steve Vaughn is the vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass service. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

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