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FMCSA Compliance Review Audits & Safety Ratings
3 mins read

SEPTEMBER 7, 2017 – The majority of motor carriers who have obtained a USDOT number have undergone, or will undergo, a New Entrant Safety Audit (NESA). This initial, educational audit is used by the DOT to make sure carriers understand the regulations and have adequate safety management controls in place.

After this initial audit is complete, carriers should continue to be prepared for additional audits, known as compliance review investigations, which can occur at any point in a motor carrier’s career. While the components of this review are the same as the NESA, what follows is a far more detailed and comprehensive audit. These investigations are conducted onsite at the carrier’s principal place of business and may take several days or weeks to complete, depending on the size of the company and the amount of paperwork.

According to the FMCSA’s latest Motor Carrier Safety Progress Report, the number of federal investigations seems to be decreasing over the years with a total of 8,148 occurring in 2015, 7,804 in 2016, and 3,971 as of March 31, 2017.

Types of Compliance Reviews

There are two types of investigations that can take place:  a “focused” review that concentrates on one area of compliance, and a full investigation that analyzes  the carrier’s compliance with all aspects of FMCSA’s regulations.

Currently full compliance reviews result in a Safety Fitness Determination of one of three possible “safety ratings:”

  • Satisfactory
  • Conditional
  • Unsatisfactory

While Satisfactory is the most coveted, Unsatisfactory is (as you’d imagine) the most dreaded result. However, it’s the middle child, Conditional, that is the most commonly issued. We’ll discuss what needs to happen after either an unsatisfactory or conditional rating in an upcoming post.

Possible Changes in the Future

In 2016 the FMCSA announced a proposal that will eradicate the three-tier Safety Fitness Determination system by utilizing roadside statistics, along with data from inspections, investigations and accidents.

In a nutshell, compliance reviews would be more akin to the New Entrant Safety Audit in that they would not take as long to complete and rather than resulting in one of three determinations, they would result in either a “Fit” or “Unfit” determination (similar to the NESA’s result of “Pass” or “Fail”).

Compliance, Compliance, Compliance!

Rather than getting caught up in the FMCSA’s current or future methods, as a motor carrier your focus should simply be ensuring that you are familiar with the regulations and doing everything you can to operate compliantly.

Have questions? Fortunately, Foley is here to explain and translate FMCSA regulations as well as make sure you are complying with federal requirements.


Fill out this form and a member of our team will reach out shorty.

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