What is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)?

HomeGlossary of fleet termsWhat is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)?

FMCSA definition

FMCSA stands for Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It is a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) agency that was created in 2000. Its primary aim is to improve the safety performance of commercial vehicles, (large trucks, buses) and minimize accidents across the United States trucking industry. It accomplishes this through the establishment of standards, implementation of regular maintenance, execution of safety research and institution of compliance procedures.

An incredible number of commercial vehicles are in use around the world, as they are key assets for transportation tasks that support the economy, such as carrying goods. In 2016, 12.5 million large commercial trucks and buses were registered in the U.S. alone. These vehicles logged more than 300 billion miles across the U.S. that year. Therefore, the FMCSA’s efforts to regulate commercial vehicle safety are complex and far-reaching.

What does the FMCSA do?

The duties of the FMCSA primarily include researching, developing, testing and enforcing safety standards for commercial motor vehicles and commercial driver’s license holders. The FMCSA also issues USDOT numbers and operating authority to trucking companies.

The agency fine-tunes standards and regulations by identifying high-risk vehicles, drivers and scenarios. These standards are then upheld through regulations, maintenance, training and the use of advanced technology for communication and organization.

Elements of safety that the FMCSA regulates include: - Consecutive operating hours allowed before a break - Standards for pre-employment checks - Standards for drug and alcohol testing - Requirements for materials stored in the cabs of vehicles - Standards for vehicle inspection - Labeling requirements for hazardous materials - Standards for securing cargo

However, these standards and regulations do not apply to all commercial vehicles. Therefore, it is important to be aware of when these apply.

Who is subject to FMCSA rules?

Commercial motor vehicles in the U.S. that are subject to FMCSA rules include:

  • Vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 pounds or more.
  • Vehicles carrying a load of hazardous materials in a quantity that requires a cautionary placard.
  • Vehicles that are transporting 16 or more passengers (including the driver) uncompensated.
  • Vehicles that are transporting 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation.

It is important for any entity that employs such commercial vehicles to be aware of FMCSA standards and regulatory measures, and to implement procedures and technologies to ensure proper compliance.

How are FMCSA rules enforced?

FMCSA rules are enforced through a variety of methods, including:

  • Regular compliance reviews
  • Investigations into complaints
  • Regular inspections
  • DOT weigh stations

Business entities also need to enforce FMCSA rules on their end in order to avoid penalties. Efforts for compliance with FMCSA regulations and standards on the business side may include:

  • Vehicle inspections
  • Employee reviews
  • Use of fleet tracking technology
  • Use of dash cams
  • Internal investigations
  • Regular training programs
  • Provision of necessary materials

It is also important for businesses to be aware that these regulations and standards are subject to change. Therefore, it is vital that they closely monitor updates from the FMCSA.

The most common FMCSA programs and regulations

The FMCSA has segmented many of its regulatory responsibilities into different programs. Notable among these programs are CSA and HOS regulations. These are key to safety and ethical practices in industries that utilize commercial vehicles.

Compliance, safety, accountability (CSA)

The CSA program uses safety data and the safety measurement system to help rank trucking companies and identify high-risk, dangerous trucking fleets and improve safety across the motor carrier industry. The primary goal of the CSA program is to hold both businesses and drivers accountable for public safety. Safety data about a company’s fleet is rated through the SMS (safety measurement system). This data is updated on a monthly basis based on information such as:

  • Number of recorded safety violations
  • Severity of recorded safety violations
  • Severity of recorded crashes
  • Recency of crashes and safety violations
  • Number of commercial vehicles in operation
  • Number of miles traveled by commercial vehicles

This data is categorized to provide high-quality analysis that can provide improved insight into areas for opportunity, referred to as Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs). BASICs include:

  • Unsafe driving: This details any recorded instances of unsafe driving, such as recklessness, inattention and lack of seatbelt use.
  • Crash indicator: This records any crashes that have taken place involving commercial vehicles that fall under FMCSA regulations.
  • Hours-of-service compliance: This records any failures to comply with HOS regulations.
  • Vehicle maintenance: This details any mechanical failures related to vehicle maintenance or failure to properly maintain vehicles, such as brake failure, light defects and excessive tire wear.
  • Controlled substances/alcohol: This records any instances of the use or possession of controlled substances or alcohol by employees in conflict with rules and regulations.
  • Hazardous materials compliance: This notes any instances of failure to safely handle, transport or label hazardous materials. This includes leaking or improperly secured containers, failure to use required placards or improper storage temperature.
  • Driver fitness: This notes any examples of a driver being deemed unfit to drive, such as lack of proper licensing or medical issues that impact driving safety.

Companies can better understand where they need to focus efforts for improvement depending on recorded data in each category.

Hours of service (HOS)

HOS regulations limit the hours of operation for truck drivers and commercial vehicle operators. Notably, they limit the consecutive number of hours that drivers and operators can work, as well as provide stipulations for how long break times must be. This is meant to enforce humane working conditions, as well as ensure the safety of both vehicle operators and the public.

HOS regulations also include rules around the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs). ELDs track driving time by synchronizing with a vehicle’s engine. These devices can ensure that the driving hours logged accurately reflect the time that the driver or operator has worked, as well as when they are on break.

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