Carrier safety ratings to continue despite COVID-19 constraints

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) determined it will continue to conduct compliance reviews and assign safety ratings even if inspectors do not visit the carrier’s place of business as required by current regulations.

In guidelines issued May 19, the agency said that due to COVID-19 risks, it will be “leveraging all available technology to access information and records” to limit potential exposure to drivers, employers, and safety investigators during compliance review procedures.

“FMCSA has determined that because safety investigators are able to follow all of the procedures…without physically visiting the motor carrier’s business premise, compliance reviews that do not include an ‘on-site’ component will limit exposure risk to COVID-19, consistent with current regulations, without compromising FMCSA’s safety mission,” the guidelines state.

FMCSA assigns safety ratings to carriers after conducting an in-depth examination of the company’s records and operations, which include a compliance review, using the Safety Fitness Rating Methodology (SFRM). The regulations state that a compliance review “means an on-site examination of motor carrier operations, such as drivers’ hours of service, maintenance and inspection, driver qualification, commercial drivers license requirements, financial responsibility, accidents, hazardous materials, and other safety and transportation records. The examination can result in the initiation of an enforcement action.

Since the SFRM was adopted in 1997, however, electronic recordkeeping has allowed the agency to review carrier files remotely that previously it could only accomplish by in-person reviews.

“Motor carriers may access and transmit their information through a portal directly with FMCSA and upload documents in a secure environment,” the guidelines note. “Many motor carriers maintain their records electronically and prefer to submit the records directly, from the electronic application where they are stored. FMCSA may also use email and telephone and video calls as a substitute for in-person interaction with motor carrier officials during the compliance review or to review the findings of the compliance review with company officials during the close out.”

FMCSA noted that the guidance, which will remain in effect until the COVID-19 national emergency is revoked, does not apply to regulations under 49 CFR part 385, subpart B, regarding safety monitoring systems for carriers domiciled in Mexico.

The compliance review is the latest action taken by FMCSA to alleviate constraints placed on regulators and the industry by the coronavirus pandemic. In April the agency issued enforcement discretion to ease penalties on state driver licensing agencies that are unable to promptly notify regulators of driver violations and convictions.