The usage of remote motor carrier safety compliance reviews during the coronavirus pandemic will be expanded, announced the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently.
According to the new guidance, the FMCSA will conduct compliance reviews “by leveraging all available technology” to access information during this national health crisis, “and thus limit exposure risk for the regulated community and safety investigators.”
“Using the same standards otherwise applicable, the FMCSA will assign safety ratings following a compliance review, even if no on-site review activities have taken place,” the agency continued.
FMCSA said this new expansion is an effort to bring further clarity to motor carriers at this time, and will remain in effect until the revocation of the COVID-19 national emergency.
“Because of travel restrictions, social distancing, and other advisories associated with the COVID-19 public health emergency, and the desire to limit exposure risk to the regulated community and safety investigators, FMCSA will conduct compliance review of motor carriers and assign safety ratings,” the agency explained.
FMCSA said it has a legal obligation to determine whether or not an owner or an operator of a commercial motor vehicle can drive safely, and will assign safety ratings to fleets after extensive operation and record examinations.
“FMCSA carries out this statutory duty by assigning safety ratings to motor carriers following in-depth examination of the motor carrier’s records and operations using the Safety Fitness Rating Methodology,” said the FMCSA. “Since adoption of the SFRM in 1997, the mechanisms and tools FMCSA uses to access information from motor carriers has continued to evolve, making compliance reviews more efficient, and lessening the burden of the regulated community.”
The agency can now make these determinations remotely with the array of new technology available instead of by conducting examinations in person, as was done previously. Electronic record-keeping allows the FMCSA to perform the exact investigative functions that it would have been doing only by in-person reviews.
Carriers can transmit information directly to the FMCSA through an online portal, where they can securely upload necessary documents. Motor carriers often maintain their records via electronic services and may prefer to directly submit records from the application in which they are stored. Carriers can also fax or email documents to FMCSA. The agency may also substitute in-person interaction with email and telephone or video calls for a compliance review, to later review findings with company officials.
In an off-site review, an auditor requests documents from the carrier and assesses a carrier’s overall safety management methods and safety performance in order to conduct a remote examination.
Until recently, when a carrier scores highly in one or two Behavior Analysis categories (such as Compliance, safety, or Accountability), the carrier has been eligible for an off-site audit. In 2018, however, the FMCSA said the updated process would not allow serious carrier problems in basic maintenance violation cases, and would instead be focusing on less-serious issues.
Carriers with known safety issues, as well as new-entrant carriers transporting passengers or hazardous materials, have not been able to qualify for off-site testing.
After a review, a carrier receives a rating of either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.” With an unsatisfactory safety rating, the FMCSA has determined that a carrier cannot continue operating in interstate commerce. Prohibitions will be imposed to an unfit carrier after 45 to 60 days if the needed safety improvements are not implemented.
According to Dave Osiecki, president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, off-site compliance audits have been mainstream for a while now. The number of off-site audits increased by over 400% from 2018 to 2019, and are set to more than double through 2020.
Off-site compliance reviews were conducted in only 10 states between 2010 and 2018; in 2019, off-site audits took place in 48 states. Now, FMCSA investigators conduct off-site reviews in all 50 states.
These off-site audits typically don’t result in carrier safety ratings, but can result in fines and penalties for some violations. If acute violations are found, though, these audits can become comprehensive investigations, which could bring a necessary safety rating assignment.
FMCSA will assign safety ratings after a compliance review during the time of COVID-19, the agency said, even if there have not been any on-site review activities.