Problems Reducing Fines For Repeat DOT Violations

Problems Reducing Fines For Repeat DOT Violations

If you have been in the trucking industry for some time, then you know that some violations have more consequences than others.

Negative roadside trends in any particular category or more serious roadside issues, like bad accidents, are a sure-fire way to trigger an upcoming Safety Audit.

While roadside data is used during Safety Audits to identify negative trends and to shed light on a particular issue, these audits primarily focus on administrative items and may cover review items such as Hours-of-Service (HOS), Vehicle Maintenance Files, Driver Qualification Files, Drug & Alcohol Documents, Crash Records, etc.

Certain types of violations during an audit are given more weight and are considered Acute (the worst type) or Critical. These violations play heavily on whether you receive a Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory Safety Rating.

These Critical and Acute violations are also listed on your SMS results and are visible to Brokers and Insurance Carriers. It is of the utmost importance that these Critical or Acute violations are taken seriously, and Corrective Action Measures are taken.

Not only to address your Conditional or Unsatisfactory rating, but also when discussing the impact of Repeat Violations on future audits.

Let’s discuss why repeat violations are important, their consequences, and how the DOT reacts.

Why are repeat violations so important?

The most common answer here is safety, like most DOT regulations.

A trucking company that continues to operate with serious or repeated DOT violations creates a serious risk of more crashes and deaths.

Ultimately, the FMCSA’s goal is to reduce the number of crashes on the roads, so tracking a Motor Carrier’s potential issues is important. For instance, if a company gets numerous roadside violations for falsifying logs and continues to do so, there would most likely be a Safety Audit conducted with the purpose of reviewing the logs in-depth for more HOS violations. If it was determined during the audit that the company was still allowing the drivers to falsify the logs by say, unplugging their ELDs or changing paper logs, they would be given a Critical violation or even worse, an Acute Violation.

Now, in future roadside inspections, the fact that the Motor Carrier has Critical or Acute HOS violations can be seen by the public as well as the officer. This will only raise a red flag for them to do more HOS checks on roadside inspections. If the issues continue, it shows the FMCSA that the carrier is not taking corrective action and they must intervene again, and thus, another Safety Audit ensues.

Now, during this Safety Audit Review, the Investigator will know about the previous issues and will check to see if those areas are in compliance. If not, you guessed it, more Critical and Acute violations.

These types of violations are typically associated with financial penalties which are automatically triggered and determined based on the types of violations and to what extent they played a role in any crashes or if there were any measures taken.

In addition, FMCSA assesses maximum fines for the third instance of critical or acute violations. In other words, the first fine may have cost you around $1,100, but a repeat of the same violation could cost you $11,000 next time.

There are opportunities to lower fines based on Corrective Action Measures taken, however, if similar violations are found in the future, those fines become less likely to be reduced. Lastly, the frequency of violations and repeat violations will also play a part in determining if your business is chosen for another future FMCSA audit.

But this is just the beginning of your problems.

Consequences of Repeat Violations

While a single minor DOT violation is unlikely to lead to long-term damage for your company, repeat violations will.

In other words, a history of repeat violations can cause shippers to become concerned for the safety of their cargo. But this is just one example.

Repeat violations can crush your fleet’s reputation by:

  • Preventing you from hiring drivers who are looking for a trusted company to work for
  • Increasing insurance premiums by 15% to 45%, less flexibility in writing those policies, or non-renewal of your policy
  • Freight brokers not wanting to book loads for you
  • Increasing the chance of future roadside inspections and additional fines
  • and more

Trucking companies that are considered “high risk” have bad SAFER scores, high losses, accidents, driver issues, and conditional ratings.

Culture is key to implement the changes necessary to pull yourself out of this category, but it can take time to see the changes reflect in your SAFER scores and over-the-road performance.

If you are worried about being considered “high risk”, reach out to CNS and CNS Insurance to shop for a high-risk policy and assistance with risk mitigation.

How DOT targets repeat violators

Back in the year 2000, when Clinton was president, the presidential administration went hard on repeat violators.

“We cannot and will not tolerate those who repeatedly violate highway safety regulations, consistently put the public at risk, and refuse to be held accountable,” Secretary Slater said. “These actions are additional tools to help reduce the number of truck- and bus-related fatalities and improve safety, which is President Clinton and Vice President Gore’s highest transportation priority.”

They quickly directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to assess the maximum fine allowed by law when the “same or related” violations are committed by a motor carrier that has been fined twice for those violations within the previous six years. These fines run as high as $10,000 per violation.

Previously, maximum penalties were assessed only when all the statutory criteria met the highest level of severity, or when the violation caused or contributed to an accident.

Today, it is not quite as harsh, with the categorizing of “acute” and “critical” violations, as we discussed previously. This is based on the Uniform Fine Assessment tool that became effective in 2013.

However, state laws have implemented stricter consequences.

For example, the Washington State Legislature has a rule that says “a high-risk carrier is liable for double the amount of the penalty of a prior violation if the high-risk carrier repeats the same violation during a follow-up compliance review. Each repeat violation is a separate and distinct offense, and in case of a repeat continuing violation every day’s continuance is a separate and distinct violation.”

Additionally, their rules say that any motor carrier who incurs a penalty may request that the state patrol mitigate the penalty, except for a high-risk carrier that incurs a penalty for a repeat violation during a follow-up compliance review.

Another example is North Carolina. The North Carolina Department of Transportation may refuse to issue additional permits or suspend existing permits if there are repeated violations of subdivision (1), (1a), or (2) of this subsection:

  • (1) A fine of $1,500 for operating without the proper number of certified escorts as determined by the actual loaded weight or size of the vehicle combination.
  • (1a) A fine of $500.00 for any of the following:
    • operating without the issuance of a permit
    • moving a load off the route specified in the permit
    • falsifying information to obtain a permit, or
    • failing to comply with dimension restrictions of a permit
  • (2) A fine of $250.00 for moving loads beyond the distance allowances of an annual permit covering the movement of house trailers from the retailer’s premises or for operating in violation of time of travel restrictions.

Are you seeing the trend yet? There is an extreme cost associated with repeat violations because you should know better by now.

So, what can be done about it?

Did you recently get Audited and receive a Conditional or Unsatisfactory Rating?

You have 60 days until you are placed OUT OF SERVICE when you receive an Unsatisfactory Safety Rating. You will need to remedy all the violations from your recent compliance review and show proof that you have corrected acute or critical violations.

Our Safety Rating Upgrade Specialists will be able to get you back on the right track with the FMCSA and keep you there. How?

  1. We look at the compliance review to understand the violations and the documents required to submit for proof of change.
  2. Then we create a Corrective Action Plan filled with new systems and processes that will be implemented within your company to fix safety and compliance exposures within your operation. 
  3. Documents and files are procured to submit along with the corrective action plan that will be audited and reviewed by a DOT Safety Rating Specialist.
  4. We will submit the Safety Rating Upgrade request and Corrective Action Plan to the state and service center with jurisdiction over carrier.
  5. Following the submission, your Safety Rating Specialist will correspond with the FMCSA analyst on final determination and guidance on any additional information requested by analyst.

How do you fix or prevent repeated violations?  

The key here is to change your focus from reacting to a problem to proactively trying to prevent problems from happening.

Carriers being proactive will put them in a better position to mitigate risk, improve efficiencies, reduce costs, and spend more time with their drivers to manage a safe and compliant fleet. 

When you are ready, you can talk to one of our DOT Compliance Specialists about which DOT Compliance Program works for your company.

We offer several different program levels depending on the size of your organization.

However, our PSM Motor Carrier Program is more common when considering affordability and the comprehensive DOT compliance assistance, and includes

  • DOT audit support
  • ELD management
  • Driver Qualification File (DQF) Management
  • New driver on-boarding
  • Driver safety meetings
  • CSA score management
  • Policies and handbooks
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • and more

Learn more about our DOT Compliance Programs

Questions about DOT Compliance, Licensing, Audits, Programs, etc.?

Our DOT Specialists are here to help!

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