DOT Safety Ratings can be confusing so we will look at what they mean and how they can affect your business.

Keep in mind that later this year there is a change coming to the Safety Rating Determination, most likely at the end of 2015.  It will change how you get a rating, what the rating is based upon, but the basics of a rating will stay the same.

Currently DOT Safety Ratings 2014 is determined by a compliance review or safety audit which may be conducted for many reasons including:

  • A bad accident could precipitate a compliance review
  • poor CSA (Compliance Safety Accountability)
  • complaints
  • Or the possibility of being a reincarnated or chameleon carrier, etc.

Many things can make your company a target for a compliance review by the state or federal FMCSA.

You may get Compliance Review or a Safety Audit, each of these has its own meaning and is described below.

Per the FMCSR Safety Rating definition 385.3:

  • Compliance review means an on-site examination of motor carrier operations, such as drivers’ hours of service, maintenance and inspection, driver qualification, commercial driver’s license requirements, financial responsibility, accidents, hazardous materials, and other safety and transportation records to determine whether a motor carrier meets the safety fitness standard. A compliance review may be conducted in response to a request to change a safety rating, to investigate potential violations of safety regulations by motor carriers, or to investigate complaints or other evidence of safety violations. The compliance review may result in the initiation of an enforcement action.”
  • “Safety audit means an examination of a motor carrier’s operations to provide educational and technical assistance on safety and the operational requirements of the FMCSRs and applicable HMRs and to gather critical safety data needed to make an assessment of the carrier’s safety performance and basic safety management controls. Safety audits do not result in safety ratings.”
  • Safety management controls are the systems, policies programs, practices, and procedures used by a motor carrier to ensure compliance with applicable safety and hazardous materials regulations which ensure the safe movement of products and passengers through the transportation system, and to reduce the risk of highway accidents and hazardous materials incidents resulting in fatalities, injuries, and property damage.”

As stated above Compliance review can result in downgrading of your Safety rating, but a safety audit does not affect your rating.  Below are the safety ratings, again from the definition of Regulation 385.3 of the FMCSR that your company may incur.

DOT Safety Ratings:

  • Satisfactory safety rating means that a motor carrier has in place and functioning adequate safety management controls to meet the safety fitness standard prescribed in § 385.5. Safety management controls are adequate if they are appropriate for the size and type of operation of the particular motor carrier.
  • Conditional safety rating means a motor carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place to ensure compliance with the safety fitness standard that could result in occurrences listed in § 385.5 (a) through (k).
  • Unsatisfactory safety rating means a motor carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place to ensure compliance with the safety fitness standard which has resulted in occurrences listed in § 385.5 (a) through (k).
  • Unrated carrier means that a safety rating has not been assigned to the motor carrier by the FMCSA.” Unrated is closer to Satisfactory that to Conditional, per the Illinois FMCSA,

If your company is downgraded to Conditional you may see several things happen, such as:

  • Losing some of your long time customers, many brokers will not book freight when companies have Conditional ratings. Even long time, dedicated clients may be forced to get new carriers for their freight
  • Your insurance premiums can increase or you may not be able to find insurance. When renewing your certificates you may see increases of 20 to 30% which can be thousands of dollars.
  • Your trucks and vehicles are more likely be inspected in roadside inspection and especially at scales due to the Inspection Selection System (ISS) that actually recommends that you be inspected at each stop due to existing safety concerns.

All these can be devastating to your business.

If you are deemed Unsatisfactory due to a compliance review you will have 30 to 45 days to provide:

  • An adequate corrective action plan to be able to continue in business and
  • It must be very specific,
  • Change must be evidenced through policies and processes you are putting in place

Once you submit the Corrective Action Plan is submitted they make a decision about letting you continue in business or ordering you to cease and desist which means you are no longer authorized to operate in interstate commerce.

If they accept your corrective action plan it will typically be a Conditional or, if lucky, an unrated designation.  Unrated is better than Conditional. Unrated means you have no rating, while conditional implies that although you can still continue to operate your business has unresolved safety issues.  Either way you will need to have a compliance review to get an upgraded to Satisfactory.

Once you are allowed to continue operating your business will be carefully monitored by roadside inspections and the FMCSA will closely monitor activity through the CSA program.  You will be under scrutiny until you request and receive a safety rating upgrade.

At best, obtaining an upgrade is a slow process. 

It is very specific and must be done in the manner the FMCSA demands.  Once submitted it is supposed to take from 60 to 90 days to get a determination, however it is taking sometimes up to a year depending on how many officers are available and how many new Unsatisfactory ratings are already in the works.  New Unsatisfactory carriers are given preference due to the 30 to 45 day time constraint.  Upgrades are neither easy nor fast.  It is best to protect your company before you get caught in that trap.

Want more info on the NEW Safety Rating Determination coming in 2015.Read More