Fleet Management

What You Need to Know About FMCSA's New Ramp Up for Offsite Compliance

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FMCSA compliance is the key to keeping fleet vehicles on the road, and keeping your vehicles in service is crucial. 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the FMCSA has shifted gears to focus on offsite compliance testing, as onsite in-person assessments have been deemed too high risk. But what does this change mean for fleets?

Fortunately, this change has actually proven beneficial for fleet management, as offsite compliance auditing takes less time to conduct than onsite compliance testing and saves your team from having to travel to testing sites. 

This article will explain what FMCSA is and discuss how it evaluates safety. In addition, we will outline essential information on FMCSA’s offsite compliance changes, including key details about the process. 

What is FMCSA? 

FMCSA stands for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It is a branch of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). Commercial motor carriers are legally required to comply with FMCSA and DOT regulations. 

The Department of Transportation assigns the research, development, and testing of commercial vehicle operators’ safety standards to FMCSA. FMCSA is also responsible for keeping records on commercial vehicles’ safety performance and enforcing safety standards for drivers and vehicles based on the department’s criteria.

FMCSA’s mission is to “reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.” 

How FMCSA Evaluates Safety 

FMCSA compliance measures commercial vehicle and driver safety with the Safety Management System (SMS). SMS uses criteria based on compliance, safety, and accountability (CSA) to assess commercial motor carriers and provide them with a CSA/SMS score. 

This score is a measurement of how safety-compliant the carrier is. The CSA/SMS score is built on a set of parameters referred to as Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC). 

There are seven BASIC categories in total, including unsafe driving, fatigued driving, driver fitness, controlled substances/alcohol, hazardous materials compliance, vehicle maintenance, and crash indicator. 

Each BASIC category is accounted for with a number in a CSA/SMS score and an overall score with a higher number indicating the carrier is at an increased risk of having an accident. 

Essential Information on FMCSA’s Offsite Compliance Ramp Up 

In a guidance document published on May 20, 2020, FMCSA outlined how they intend to use technology to conduct compliance reviews during COVID-19. 

FMCSA explains that due to “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 reviews of motor carriers and assign safety ratings even if those compliance reviews do not include an ‘on-site’ component.” 

The agency specifies that it will leverage “all available technology to access information and records” when conducting compliance reviews. 

Statistics on Offsite FMCSA Compliance 

From 2010 to 2018, FMCSA only conducted offsite compliance reviews in 10 states as an operational test. The test demonstrated that around “60% of new entrant carriers were eligible for and received offsite audits.” In addition, the test found that offsite audits take 33% less time to complete when compared to on-site audits and that offsite audits save 58% on carrier travel costs.   

In 2019, offsite compliance audits were conducted in 48 states. Now, in 2020 they are undertaken in 50 states. 

Data from the FCMSA’s Motor Carrier Management Information System outlines the number of offsite compliance reviews FMCSA and its state enforcement partners undertake in a given period. 

In 2017, FMCSA and its state enforcement partners only conducted 76 offsite compliance reviews. In the following year—2018—the agency and its partners undertook 330 offsite compliance reviews. Last year, in 2019, FMCSA and its state enforcement partners completed 1,374 offsite compliance reviews and only 10% of all compliance reviews were conducted offsite.

Now compare that to this year. From January to July of 2020, FMCSA has already conducted 3,582 offsite compliance reviews. 

If the agency continues to conduct offsite inspections at this rate, they will have conducted over 6,000 remote inspections by the end of the year. 

Offsite Compliance Process

FMCSA uses electronic recordkeeping and other technologies to perform thorough compliance investigations remotely that could only have been done previously in-person. 

When conducting an offsite review, a safety auditor remotely evaluates a carrier’s safety management practices and safety performance by analyzing certain documents the carrier must submit. 

FMCSA outlines how carriers “may access and transmit their information through a portal directly with FMCSA and upload documents in a secure environment.” This is due to the fact that most carriers maintain electronic records and prefer to submit those records directly online. 

Motor carriers also have the option of faxing or emailing documents to FMCSA if they can’t gain access to the portal or just prefer to. 

FMCSA will use email, or video or telephone calls to replace in-person meetings with fleet officials during their compliance review and after to go over the findings of the review. 

After the FMCSA conducts a compliance review, the motor carrier is given a rating of either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.””. Receiving “unsatisfactory” from the FMCSA notifies the carrier that they are currently unfit to continue operating, and restrictions will be imposed on them in 45 to 60 days unless safety improvements are made.  

In their May guidance document, the FMCSA reaffirms that it “is required by statute to determine whether an owner or operator of commercial motor vehicles is fit to operate safely… [and] carries out this statutory duty by assigning safety ratings to motor carriers following in-depth examination of the motor carrier’s records and operations.” 

The FMCSA is committed to undertaking thorough compliance reviews, even if they are conducted offsite. Fleets should have their records and documents organized and ready in case of a compliance review. One way to do this is by using eLogs software for FMCSA compliance, as it simplifies the process, so large fleets can easily handle compliance reviews.