Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration(FMCSA)

Last Updated: Oct 24, 2018

What New Truck Drivers Need To Know About The FMCSA

The FMCSA regulates safety in the commercial motor-vehicle arena. In whatever capacity you are employed, be it a driver, or carrier, these guys are making sure that you're following the rules.

The FMCSA regulates safety in the commercial motor-vehicle arena. In whatever capacity you are employed, be it a driver, or carrier, these guys are making sure that you're following the rules.

What is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration?

The FMCSA is the agency within the US Department of Transportation that regulates the commercial motor vehicle industry. It is the lead federal government agency responsible for regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles. Its stated mission is to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities among commercial trucks and buses. The FMSCA partners with industry, safety advocates, and state and local governments to keep the nation's roadways safe. It aims to improve safety through regulation, education, enforcement, research and technology. The agency was created on Jan. 1, 2000, pursuant to the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999.

FMCSA website

Truck Drivers and CSA Scores

As a driver, you'll hear the phrase “CSA” a lot; it stands for Compliance, Safety and Accountability. It is the safety compliance and enforcement program of the FMCSA. It holds motor carriers (mostly trucking companies) and drivers accountable for safety violations.

The CSA compiles data from motor carriers and owner-operators. The data includes driver safety violations, roadside inspections, vehicle safety violations, investigation results, and crash reports from the last two years. This data is updated once a month into the FMSCA's Safety Measurement System (SMS).

The FMSCA organizes all of this safety data from SMS into seven Behavior and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). These are:

  • Unsafe Driving
  • Crash Indicator
  • Hours of Service Compliance
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Controlled Substance/Alcohol
  • Hazardos Materials Compliance
  • Driver Fitness

Once the data is organized into one of the seven categories, the violations are weighted based on the severity. The agency will take into account the number of violations and inspections, the severity of violations or crashes, when the violations occurred, the number of vehicles a carrier operates, the number of vehicle miles traveled, and acute and critical violations found during investigations.

The agency then analyzes all of this safety information and assigns each motor carrier a score, commonly referred to as a CSA score. It's a ranking of carriers based on the safety data. The higher the score, the worse the safety record.

Read more about the BASICs here on the CSA website

How CSA Scores Affect Truck Drivers

Now that you're thinking you are going to punch your monitor if you have to read one more acronym, here's how this will affect you as a driver. On a day-to-day basis, your employer's CSA score can affect how often your truck gets pulled in for an inspection at weigh stations. The worse the score, the more likely a truck is to get selected for an inspection.

Also, any ticket or accident you have while driving on the job will affect your employer's score. For owner-operators, a low CSA score can affect insurance premiums and what loads you're able to book. The good news is that because of the weighting system, a ticket for something minor won't cost as many CSA points as a major infraction.

Check a company's CSA profile on the FMCSA website

Hours of Service for Truck Drivers

The FMCSA is also the agency that sets the hours of service requirements for drivers.  In July 2013, the FMCSA updated the hours of service regulation to help reduce the incidence of driver fatigue on the nation's roadways. The final rule required truck drivers who use the “34-hour restart” provision to maximize their weekly work hours to limit the restart to once a week and to include in the restart period at least two nights off duty from 1:00 to 5:00 a.m., reasoning that that is when a person's internal clock needs and benefits from sleep the most.

In December 2014, Congress passed the FAST Act, which suspended the new 34-hour restart provision in the hours of service rule and instructed FMCSA to study its effectiveness. In 2015, FMCSA selected Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to conduct the largest naturalistic study of its kind that the agency had ever undertaken.  The findings showed that the 1:00 to 5:00 am requirement didn't benefit drivers, so the suspension was upheld. 

Hours of service rules can be confusing, especially for new drivers.  You can read a more detailed explanation of hours of service here.

Quick summary of Hours of Service on the FMCSA website

Who is covered by FMCSA regulations

All non-exempt commercial motor vehicles that cross state lines are subject to the FMCSA regulations. If these commercial vehicles are operating within one state, they need to abide by state-equivalent motor carrier safety regulations. The intent of the regulations is to cover all persons and entities involved in operating commercial vehicles, including:

  • Drivers
  • Hiring managers
  • Trainers
  • Supervisors
  • Managers
  • Dispatchers
  • Other people whose actions affect drivers and commercial motor vehicles

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations set forth minimum standards for those involved with the operation of commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce , in order to cover all people and entities involved in interstate operation of these trucks.

Is the FMCSA an Enforcement Agency?

The FMCSA does enforce the regulations it sets, but truck drivers aren't likely to come in contact with a FMCSA agent.  State officials conduct about 95 percent of the roadside inspections of commercial motor vehicles.  However, in 2017 there were about 3.4 million roadside inspections completed in the United States, so that 5 percent is not such an insignificant amount.

In terms of direct enforcement, the FMCSA mainly deals with trucking companies.  The FMCSA has a variety of interventions to contact and work with motor carriers that have safety performance and compliance problems. Using the SMS, FMCSA identifies and prioritizes for interventions motor carriers that do not comply with safety rules and regulations. Trucking companies may receive a warning letter from FMCSA when they have safety performance and compliance problems. If they do not improve their safety performance and compliance after receiving the warning letter, then FMCSA will likely prioritize them for another kind of intervention— typically, an investigation.

Examples of Interventions

Warning Letters: Warning letters alert motor carriers early on to safety performance and compliance problems and the consequences of not improving, which may include either Offsite or Onsite Investigations.

Investigations: Safety Investigators (SIs) conduct three types of investigations on motor carriers, listed below. Investigations take place at the carrier's place of business or remotely. During the investigation, SIs use FMCSA's Safety Management Cycle to diagnose safety performance and compliance problems and identify actions a carrier can take to improve safety.

  • Offsite An SI requests copies of documents from a carrier for review remotely, to identify specific safety performance and compliance problems.
  • Onsite Focused An SI focuses on specific safety performance and compliance problems at the carrier's place of business and may interview employees and perform vehicle inspections.
  • Onsite Comprehensive An SI reviews the entire safety operation at the carrier's place of business and may interview employees and perform vehicle inspections.

The FMCSA will fine trucking companies for violating regulations.  You can see a summary of the fines imposed here.

More about The Fast Act

On Dec. 4, 2015, President Obama signed into law Public Law 114-94, the Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act). The FAST Act funds surface transportation programs, including Federal-aid highways, at over $305 billion for fiscal years 2016 through 2020. It is the first long-term surface transportation authorization enacted in a decade that provides long-term funding certainty for surface transportation.

Highlights of the Fast Act

  • Improves mobility on America's highways - The FAST Act establishes and funds new programs to support critical transportation projects to ease congestion and facilitate the movement of freight on the Interstate System and other major roads. Examples include developing a new National Multimodal Freight Policy, apportioning funding through a new National Highway Freight Program, and authorizing a new discretionary grant program for Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects (FASTLANE Grants).
  • Creates jobs and supports economic growth - The FAST Act authorizes $226.3 billion in Federal funding for fiscal year 2016 through 2020 for road, bridge, bicycling, and walking improvements. In addition, the FAST Act includes a number of provisions designed to improve freight movement in support of national goals.
  • Accelerates project delivery and promotes innovation - Building on the reforms of MAP-21 and FHWA's Every Day Counts initiative, the FAST Act incorporates changes aimed at ensuring the timely delivery of transportation projects. These changes will improve innovation and efficiency in the development of projects, through the planning and environmental review process, to project delivery.

Learn more about the Fast Act here

Other Programs Under the FMCSA

National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners

Provides CMV drivers with access to a database of trained and tested medical professionals certified to perform required medical examinations.

Hazardous Materials (HM) Program

Provides industry information, training, and education on HM transportation safety, regulations, and emergency response.

Commercial Driver's License (CDL) Program

Educates prospective commercial drivers on the process and requirements for obtaining a state-issued CDL.

Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program

Provides financial assistance to states to reduce the number and severity of accidents by sponsoring states' CMV enforcement efforts.

New Entrant Program

Requires CMV operators to register with FMCSA before beginning interstate operations, and subjects new entrants to a safety audit and monitoring for the first 18 months.

Regulatory Compliance and Enforcement

The Administration operates a program to improve safety performance and remove high-risk carriers from the Nation's highways.

Research and Technology

The Administration coordinates research and development to improve the safety of motor carrier operations and commercial motor vehicles and drivers.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Commercial Motor Vehicle:

A commercial motor vehicle is any vehicle used in commerce to transport passengers or property with either:

  • A gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more
  • A gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more which includes a towed unit with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds
  • CSA:

    Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA)

    The CSA is a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) initiative to improve large truck and bus safety and ultimately reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities that are related to commercial motor vehicle

    FMCSA:

    Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

    The FMCSA was established within the Department of Transportation on January 1, 2000. Their primary mission is to prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.

    What Does The FMCSA Do?

    • Commercial Drivers' Licenses
    • Data and Analysis
    • Regulatory Compliance and Enforcement
    • Research and Technology
    • Safety Assistance
    • Support and Information Sharing

    SAP:

    Substance Abuse Professional

    The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

    DOT:

    Department Of Transportation

    A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

    State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

    CMV:

    Commercial Motor Vehicle

    A CMV is a vehicle that is used as part of a business, is involved in interstate commerce, and may fit any of these descriptions:

    • Weighs 10,001 pounds or more
    • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
    • Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) not for compensation
    • Is designed or used to transport 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation
    • Is transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards

    Interstate Commerce:

    Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).

    Interstate:

    Commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the Federal Department Of Transportation (DOT).

    Dispatcher:

    Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

    The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

    Dm:

    Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

    The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

    Fm:

    Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

    The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

    HOS:

    Hours Of Service

    HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

    OWI:

    Operating While Intoxicated

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