It is imperative if you are going to be successful in the trucking industry that you are aware of and prepared to follow the rules and regulations set out by the DOT and FMCSA. These practices have been put into place to protect you and other drivers by keeping the roadways as safe as possible for everyone involved by taking data and researching how things have gone wrong and working on correcting them where possible.
Being compliant in the trucking industry means that you have read and are familiar with the FMCSA’s rules and regulations and that you are doing your best to follow them and document your compliance. If you are a motor carrier who hires drivers it is also important that everyone involved is aware of the rules and is prepared to follow them.
The Department of Transportation is the overall boss of the roadways. If you are a commercial vehicle that is required to be registered with the DOT and have a DOT number on the side of your vehicle you need to be aware of how to keep your equipment, driver, and paperwork up-to-date. If you are an Intrastate carrier (only travel within a state from pick-up to delivery) you need to learn the rules and regulations for that state as they are set at the state level and can sometimes vary.
The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration was formed within the Department of Transportation to collect, understand and enforce the regulations for all commercial motor carriers. Among other things, they are in charge of making sure that you are following proper Hours of Service documentation and requirements, adhering to any weight restrictions or permits, and keeping up with your ELDs (Electronic Logging Devices) or paper logbooks. It is also important to note that a carrier is required to keep all driver logs, whether electronic or paper, for 6 months before discarding them in case they need to be viewed at a later time due to an accident or audit.
The Safety Measurement System is a tool designed by the FMCSA to keep track of all data and help to flag any carriers that might be posing a risk to others on the roadway. It is updated once a month and when violations occur they can remain on a carrier’s profile for up to 24 months.
There are seven different factors that the SMS systems hones in on and those are Vehicle Maintenance, Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, Hazardous Materials (if applicable), Driver Fitness, Controlled Substances and Alcohol, and Hours of Service.
Your BASIC score is composed of the above data that has been collected during roadside inspections or FMCSA audits and added to your carrier profile. In this case, you are hoping you are playing your best round of golf, as the carrier with the lowest score shows that they are in compliance and following the rules to the best of their abilities. With a “0” reflecting your best performance and a “100” showing the worst performance we are definitely aiming to be closer to “0”.
The term BASIC when broken down means Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories. If you know the rules of the trucking industry and are implementing them in your day-to-day business practices you will have no trouble having a successful BASIC score.
If you have any violations found during a DOT inspection they can very quickly cause a negative impact on your BASIC score. Also, the key to remember is that these violations will remain on your profile for up to 2 years and can also affect your insurance rates in a very big way. Any moving violations, unsafe equipment, improper or not current driving logs, or any controlled substance violations can do major damage to your score.
If you have multiple violations or a high BASIC score these can trigger an audit for the FMCSA to step in and see what is going on and how they can work with you to not only improve your score but to improve your business and the safety of the roads.
An audit can also be triggered if someone fails their New Entrant Audit or if there have been calls in from other drivers with complaints about your driving. Remember when your DOT number is on the side of your tractor you are a billboard for your company and that can work for you or against you depending on your day-to-day driving practices.
There are times that occur in the trucking industry when it is impossible to follow the normal rules. Just like any industry they do provide exemptions to keep the wheels turning even in extreme circumstances while still not throwing safety and common sense out the window.
Emergency Exemptions can be put into play by the Department of Transportation and some of the most common reasons for this are natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, or tornadoes. In cases like this, the DOT may lift hours of service requirements in order to keep basic needs such as food and water being delivered to those who truly need it.
There are also some instances in the agricultural industry that during harvest seasons they may allow tractors to carry overweight loads without permits and allow more grace in hours hauled as they know that sometimes the window is short when getting crops safely out of the field.
Some other specific reasons a driver may need an exemption would be due to health issues that are being monitored and controlled by a physician. In cases such as diabetes, vision issues, hearing issues, and past seizures the FMCSA's website offers webinars and specific forms that drivers can fill out to see if they can qualify for an exemption to continue on the road.
The overall goal is to keep the road as safe as possible so it is important to understand that if you don’t qualify they truly feel you are not meant to be behind the wheel of a big rig for your own safety as well as that of others.
Many of these exemptions are currently only available for Interstate Carriers, not Intrastate Carriers as each state can make its own rules and regulations.
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