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FMCSA complaint process receives criticism from Government Accountability Office

Sept. 25, 2023
The Government Accountability Office has critiqued the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for the use of ambiguous terms and processes used when filing and following up on motor carrier complaints.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration collects complaints against companies that operate commercial vehicles, but the manner in which it collects and responds to those complaints is under scrutiny following a  report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. GAO has recommended 14 actions FMCSA can take to remedy perceived shortcomings in the complaint process.

Much of GAO’s critique centers upon FMCSA having not defined several key terms in its guidance for the complaint process at the National Consumer Complaint Database, including the seven complaint categories (Americans with Disabilities Act, coercion, harassment, hazardous materials, household goods, safety, and other commercial complaints). According to the report,  FMCSA does not clearly define how those categories align with over 100 possible allegations.

“Specifically, FMCSA has not (1) defined some key terms in its guidance for reviewing complaints or (2) included detailed steps in its guidance for reviewing all categories of complaints,” the GAO report states. “For example, an FMCSA reviewer must decide if a complaint made by a truck driver against an electronic logging device provider with the allegation ‘the company failed to respond to my service request in a timely manner’ should be treated as a safety or other category of complaint. According to FMCSA officials, a complaint against an electronic logging device provider falls under the safety complaint category, but we found this is not laid out in FMCSA’s complaint review guidance.”

Furthermore, GAO noted that since FMCSA’s review process differs depending on the major complaint category, it is essential to know which category to apply to a complaint.

See also: FMCSA revokes two ELDs

GAO also alleges that FMCSA’s complaint review guidance does not define a key term—“motorist complaint.” FMCSA officials told GAO that most motorist complaints relate to dangerous driving. FMCSA closed almost 90% of motorist complaints from the public and over 20% of motorist complaints submitted by motor carriers without further review. According to FMCSA’s Training Manual, this is because “most motorist complaints allege unsafe driving. An investigation is generally not performed in response to a motorist complaint because this type of complaint usually addresses an isolated instance.”

See also: FMCSA to award grant funding for truck parking, CDL training

GAO reviewed 15 safety complaint case files, 11 of which had a status of “closed-motorist complaint.” FMCSA closed 10 of those 11 files without recording follow-up actions. However, in two of the files, GAO found two complaints alleging not isolated incidents of unsafe driving, but unsafe company practices. These included a carrier not properly drug screening a driver and another carrier causing a driver to violate hours-of-service rules and not ensuring another driver complied with drug testing requirements.

“By not clearly defining what constitutes a ‘motorist complaint,’ FMCSA runs the risk of staff closing some complaints that may warrant follow-up,” the report states.

FMCSA complaint process lacks transparency, accessibility, GAO says

FMCSA does not make all categories of complaint data available to the public. Information on complaints against truck companies, bus companies, and electronic logging device providers are not available to the public. GAO alleges this is not in agreement with theDepartment of Transportation’s data management policy, which mandates transparency.

Representatives from 11 motor carrier industry and safety associations told GAO that they are not satisfied with the information GAO shares about complaints. They said that providing information on trends in the number of complaints, the most common types of complaints, or the status of complaints would assist their organizations in developing potential solutions to common problems.

In addition, the report states that the FMCSA complaint website is not optimized for mobile devices, making it difficult to navigate. According to FMCSA officials who spoke with GAO, about 50% of users access the website from mobile devices. Representatives of industry associations noted to GAO that mobile access is especially important for truck drivers.

About the Author

Scott Keith

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