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The Challenge of Upgrading Your Safety Rating (and What it Means for Your Business)
Foley
7 mins read
There’s no doubt about it ( and we’ve discussed it often here ): It’s much easier to maintain a Satisfactory safety rating from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) than it is to bounce back from a Conditional or (especially) an Unsatisfactory rating.

Still, many carriers have been operating with Conditional ratings for 10 or more years. So it isn’t an absolute death knell for your business. But as any Conditionally-rated carrier will tell you, it is a struggle to return to the coveted Satisfactory status.

WEBINAR: The Critical Connection Between Safety Ratings & Offsite Audits

That long road to recovery involves strained business and reputation—from lost partnerships and customers (or significantly reduced payment agreements with those that will continue to work with you), to difficulty attracting quality drivers, to increased insurance premiums. That’s not to mention ongoing scrutiny from the FMCSA and enforcement officers (think: fines and increased audit risk). And these are just a few of the consequences, of course.

The Rating Scale

When given a Conditional or Unsatisfactory rating, it means that an auditor has determined that a company has failed to have adequate safety management controls in place.

Either way, you should act immediately—but particularly with an Unsatisfactory rating (the worst possible), you have just 60 days to convince the DOT to let you continue operating, or they place you Out of Service. Based on your safety protocols, or lack thereof, the FMCSA has determined that you are unfit to continue operating in interstate commerce and are ineligible for federal contracts.

Carriers given Conditional ratings, meanwhile, are still permitted to operate, but they must address issues presented by the FMCSA right away to be able to formally request a new rating.

These ratings are based on past audits, reviews, performance, and ratings calculated by the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scoring program. Each month, a carrier’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) percentiles are updated based on roadside and crash inspection data, intervention history, and violation status.

As a refresher, BASICS include:

  • Unsafe Driving (Speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, inattention, or failure to use seatbelts.)
  • Crash Indicator (History of crash involvement.)
  • Hours of Service (HOS) Compliance
  • Vehicle maintenance (Failure to make required repairs.)
  • Controlled substances/alcohol (Use or possession.)
  • Hazardous materials compliance (Leaking containers, improper packaging and/or placarding.)
  • Driver fitness (Invalid license, medically unfit to operate a CMV.)

Carriers are grouped by BASIC with other carriers with a similar number of safety events, then assigned a percentile from 0 to 100 prioritizing them for interventions.

It’s important to remember that carriers can also be assigned Conditional or Unsatisfactory ratings during annual audits, offsite audits—which are up 400% since 2019—and during the annual International Roadcheck (which is right around the corner, on May 4-6).

Free Quiz! Find Out if You're Ready for Roadcheck

In the most recent Roadcheck, the top reason for non-compliance was hours of service. Other top driver violations fell into the “other” category (including moving violations and cell phone use while driving), wrong class licenses, false logs, and suspended licenses. Other all-to-common driver violations involve medical cards and CDL licensing.

The Road Back

When issued a Conditional rating, the FMCSA expects to see a safety management plan to address violations. These plans outline reasons leading to the rating, steps being taken to correct the issues, and how far the carrier is into the process of correcting those issues.

Plans should include steps being taken to identify issues, company training or use of outside experts to help assist with training, and documented statements showing that deficiencies have been or will be corrected—an internal or external audit verifying that violations are no longer occurring, for example, or roadside inspection reports showing that the violations are no longer occurring. These plans should also include mechanisms being put (or that will be put) into place to correct issues and to prevent them from recurring. For example, new or improved policies and procedures, new and improved roles and responsibilities, and improved or increased self-auditing.

Once this plan has been established and is in action, the carrier can then formally request a rating change from the FMCSA. In theory, the agency provides a decision within 30 to 45 days of receiving a request.

Their decision is based on whether they believe the carrier meets safety standards due to corrective actions being taken. Or, the rating remains in place if the carrier does not demonstrate that problems have been corrected or are being addressed. When a carrier is denied an upgraded safety rating, they must continue to make documented improvements to safety programs before continuing to ask for additional safety rating reviews.

One important thing to remember is that, although many companies with Conditional ratings have fixed their compliance issues, they haven’t been able to get the FMCSA back for an audit to have their ratings upgraded. So, they continue—perhaps sometimes for years—to deal with the consequences of receiving those ratings in the first place.

How to Avoid Reduced Ratings Altogether

 It all comes down to compliance (what else?). At Foley, we have a range of resources to help you remain compliant—from driver qualification file management, to DOT-compliant background checks and DOT-compliant drug and alcohol testing, to comprehensive DOT Clearinghouse program management and MVR Monitoring. We also provide comprehensive audit support to help keep you on track before the auditors come calling.

While all of these are essential, MVR Monitoring, particularly, helps maintain the safety of your fleet by alerting you in real time when new information appears on a driver’s motor vehicle report—so you can take action as soon as a serious driver violation occurs.

If you have any questions about Foley’s suite of services, contact us! We’re here to help!

 
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