Why Carriers and Drivers Need Help When Challenging Violations With The DataQ Process

Why Carriers and Drivers Need Help When Challenging Violations With The DataQ Process

In 2019, FMCSA data shows that nearly half of the 54,000 DataQs were filed for inspections/crashes assigned to the wrong carrier or driver (for example, duplicate records in the system).

While it is often said “knowledge is power”, really it is “understanding of the knowledge” that is real power.

Too many motor carriers do not have the time or resources to make sense of their CSA data and is the reason why fleets end up not knowing that non-preventable crashes are harming their CSA scores.

If you notice incorrect information in your PSP report or the CSA Safety Measurement System (SMS), the DataQ process is there to help companies and drivers fight and remove these records that could be keeping your scores or insurance rates high.

Read more: Understand Three Important Trucking Tools For Hiring and Roadside Inspections

FMCSA says thousands of incorrect information-type DataQs are corrected each year. Just imagine how many incorrect data is left unchecked and hurting your CSA scores right now.  

Why You Need Help With The DataQ System And Process

Violation challenges are the number one reason owner-operators utilize the DataQ system, but they are the least-successful category of challenge where only 39% were successfully changed, according to the FMCSA.

The problem with the DataQ process is that navigating the system can be challenging and dealing with state departments’ decisions that are often complex or end up as a single judgment call by the original inspecting officer can be frustrating.

Oftentimes, getting the DOT officer to admit they were wrong is half the battle, but it may take multiple appeals by the carrier to get an in-depth review.

Navigating the system itself can be one challenge, but the most common hurdle is gathering enough evidence to make a convincing case.

Before starting a DataQ process, challengers should make sure they have the officer’s report number for the record being challenged, a police accident report, and any other required or relevant evidence for the case.

Even with clear evidence, fixing errors in the system can be difficult and time consuming when a filing gets rejected.

That whole time, which can take months, the violation is in the CSA score system and damaging your CSA score, insurance rates, and ability to do business.

For crash-related information, only 43% of driver challenges were overturned while carrier service providers, like CNS, have nearly a 60% success rate.

While larger fleets may be able to afford hiring a compliance expert to manage the DataQ process, using a third party to organize a DataQ challenge, review your CSA scores, pull PSP reports, or manage compliance reviews will help you make sure your records are fair and accurate.

What can CNS do for me in the DataQ system?

Actively managing your safety measurement system (SMS) scores and PSP reports is crucial to the success of Motor Carriers.

As compliance experts, CNS staff are basically doing law enforcement’s job to prove they made a mistake.

We have built great rapport with the FMCSA challenging DataQ’s and have the experience and expertise to determine what can and cannot be challenged.

Our DOT Compliance Specialists are well-versed in the FMCSA rules and regulations, as well as what an officer is required to note on their report.

When filing a challenge, CNS can help you use language that shows intent to be thoughtful, clear, and concise in describing what the error is believed to be.

Whether you would like our DOT Specialists to challenge one DataQ or conduct a monthly analysis of all roadside violations to potentially challenge, we have a cost-effective solution for your company.

We can:

  • Request copies of an Inspection Report
  • Contest incorrect, multiple-listed, or missing IEP/shipper information
  • Contest citations with associated violation
  • Contest violations assigned to wrong motor carrier or driver
  • Identify issues, such as crash duplicates, missing records, or crash reports containing incorrect information
  • Establish a crash preventability program

Call one of our DOT Compliance Specialists at 888.260.9448 to discuss your options or you can request more information in the form below.

DataQ

Carriers Must Go Digital to Meet Future Off-Site Audit Expectations

Carriers Must Go Digital to Meet Future Off-Site Audit Expectations

The total number of DOT audits and off-site audits are expected to increase 50% in 2021, compared to last year.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and its’ state partners have struggled to physically audit a significant number of motor carriers each year. This led them to develop the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program and Safety Management System that evaluates the safety of the estimated 500,000 active motor carriers it regulates.

As this program continues to evolve, with the delayed Item Response Theory (IRT) approach to identifying at-risk carriers for intervention, the FMCSA has been experimenting with off-site audits for eligible new entrant motor carriers.

While the first operational test of these off-site audits began nearly a decade ago, there has finally been more off-site audits than on-site audits in 2020. While off-site audits were ramped up during the COVID pandemic, the last few years has seen significant trends and they will only continue to increase moving forward.

Off-Site audits rise as FMCSA expands off-site comprehensive reviews

Last year the FMCSA performed nearly 11,500 audits with 5,750 of them being performed off-site. As of the end of May 2021, they have already conducted close to 3,500 off-site reviews and approximately 4,000 on-site reviews over that same period. At this pace, the agency’s investigators are on track to perform nearly 8,500 off-site audits by the end of the year, and around 18,000 audits overall.

While off-site audits were reserved for less intensive circumstances, such as new entrant safety audits and focused reviews which involved a lower volume of paperwork, the off-site review process has become more streamlined and reliable. 

This has led to the FMCSA to publish a final rule last month that includes a path to rely more heavily on comprehensive off-site audits.

The amendments, by removing the word ‘on-site’ from the definitions of Compliance review and Roadability review in § 385.3, allows FMCSA and State personnel to conduct off-site compliance reviews of motor carriers following the same safety fitness determination criteria used in on-site compliance reviews.

How do you prepare for digital off-site reviews?

While one of the biggest benefits of off-site audits to both the FMCSA and carriers is the paperwork reduction, you need to be prepared to upload compliance documentation to the agency on short notice.

This includes your:

  • driver qualification,
  • drug and alcohol testing,
  • hours-of-service,
  • vehicle maintenance files,
  • proof of insurance,
  • accident register, and
  • other compliance documents.

In off-site audits, the FMCSA requires carriers to upload records through their Safety Measurement System account. This means that if you maintain hard copies of the requested records, you will first have to digitize them to transfer them to the investigator.

Large carriers and owner-operators alike should store these files electronically, instead of the traditional filing cabinet or paper binder, and keep them up to date and compliant.

As the FMCSA continues to rely more heavily on off-site audits, carriers need to adapt. This may mean having an outside representative perform a mock audit to reveal any DOT compliance gaps you may have.

The best tip we can provide carriers is to exceed, and not “just meet”, the DOT regulations.


Need Audit Help Now Or Want To Go Digital With DOT Compliance?

Contact Name*

At CNS, our DOT Compliance Programs focus on Proactive Safety Management (PSM), a mindset that will ensure your fleet’s safety and compliance is always in order and ahead of the FMCSA.

We offer several different program levels depending on the size of your organization, however our PSM Motor Carrier Program is the more common when considering affordability and the comprehensiveness of DOT compliance assistance.

Our PSM Motor Carrier Program includes:

  • DOT audit support
  • ELD management
  • Driver Qualification File 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

For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.

How To Prepare For A Comprehensive FMCSA Safety Audit

How To Prepare For A Comprehensive FMCSA Safety Audit

Did you receive an email or phone call requesting an FMCSA safety audit or comprehensive compliance review?

What is an FMCSA Safety Audit or Compliance Review?  

A safety audit or compliance review is an examination of a motor carrier’s records in all categories of safety compliance by a safety investigator from the FMCSA. 

Any motor carrier can be selected for a compliance review at any time, but generally selections are based on multiple BASIC stats being over threshold or as the result of a serious accident or complaint. 

While there are many different types of audits a carrier can face, the mindset and procedures are similar when preparing for any audit and the best defense is knowledge about what happens in an audit.

Let us look at the comprehensive review process, common violations auditors look for, and eight best practices when preparing for an FMCSA audit.

Scheduling an FMCSA Compliance Review

Regardless of the reasons you were selected for an FMCSA audit, the DOT officer or state representative will contact you to schedule the compliance review, primarily by phone, and then email.

Motor carriers should not delay responding to the DOT auditor because ignoring their requests—especially the “no contact letter” or “demand letter” for scheduling an audit—could lead to fines of up to $10,000 and/or suspension of their operating authority.

When you are scheduling the DOT audit date, carriers should plan for two weeks to one month to prepare, but should understand that audits can be scheduled with only 48-hours of notice.

Note: In certain situations, like after a serious crash, the compliance review audit could happen without any prior notice.

After scheduling the review date, the auditor should provide the carrier a list of items they want you to provide along with a current list of carriers and vehicles that have operated in the previous 12 months.

How to prepare for the FMCSA audit

Generally, carriers only have about 2 weeks to prepare for an audit. However, following audit preparation best practices and staying organized on a regular basis will prevent any last minute scrambling.

All carriers will inevitably be subject to some type of audit, so it is never too early to prepare, and going above and beyond the DOT compliance requirements will only make this process smoother.

Impressing the DOT auditor and keeping them in a good mood throughout the audit goes a long way.

There are 9 steps of a comprehensive compliance review, which are:

  1. Opening Interview
  2. Driver Qualification Files
  3. Hours of Service
  4. Drug and Alcohol
  5. Maintenance
  6. Financial Responsibility
  7. Accident Review
  8. HAZMAT, if applicable
  9. Close Out Review

While all recent files must be made available for the auditor to review, they will only look at a sampling of the files and look for the commonly missed items.

However, they will likely start by reviewing drivers that have a red flag violation on file and look closely at every area that has had a previous violation on record. 

This is where paying attention to details can mean the difference between passing and failing an audit.

Below are common issues inspectors look for in each step of the compliance review.

Driver Qualification (DQ) Files

When it comes to DQ files, the most common items missing are:

  • the annual motor vehicle record,
  • a list of violations from the drivers, and
  • a record of the annual driver review

Hours of Service (HOS)

For hours of service, auditors will request all supporting documents, such as bills of lading, fuel receipts, weight tickets, lodging, and more.

If carriers withhold any supporting documents, the violation is weighted the same as having a false log. This is a common area where non-compliant carriers think they can hide information that could prove hours of service violations, but inspectors know what to look for.

Drug and Alcohol

The most common documents missing from drug and alcohol files are:

  • pre-employment test results for each driver
  • reasonable suspicion testing results

Another common issue are carries diluting the random drug testing pool by having non-CDL drivers in a CDL-only pool. While this may be an innocent mistake, this reduces the chances of required drivers being randomly selected for a drug test.

Maintenance

There are five areas in a maintenance review, which are:

  • annual inspections
  • preventative maintenance schedule
  • random or repair maintenance
  • daily vehicle inspection reports
  • DOT roadside inspections

The auditor will look for any vehicle that was operating with an out-of-service maintenance condition by comparing when a maintenance issue came up and when the repair was fixed.

Best practices when preparing for a DOT audit

Now that you understand the common violations found in an FMCSA safety audit, how can you prevent these violations from happening to you?

There are 8 best practices every carrier should prioritize:

  1. Maintain good record-keeping procedures – keep all documentation current and accurate
  2. Good company policies – Focus on hiring, work, and discipline
  3. Proof of consistent Hours of Service – monitoring, auditing, and corrective actions for logbook violations
  4. Maintain good vehicle maintenance records  – DVIR, annual inspections, and preventative maintenance
  5. DO NOT wait until the last minute to get files ready
  6. Establish a voluntary “Cooperative Safety Plan” – file it with the FMCSA to address any underlying issues that have or could potentially lead to safety issues and improve its performance
  7. Conduct Mock DOT audits – Third-party experts can go through the audit process to identify issues that need correcting
  8. Act quickly to fix any problems discovered – Pay special attention to high-risk issues

Are you being reactive or proactive?  

The best tip we can provide carriers is to exceed, and not “just meet” the DOT regulations.

At CNS, our DOT Compliance Programs focus on Proactive Safety Management (PSM), a mindset that will ensure your fleet’s safety and compliance is always in order and ahead of the FMCSA.

Our PSM Motor Carrier Program includes:

  • ELD management
  • Driver Qualification File 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

For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.

What Are The Most Common Triggers That Prompt A DOT Audit?

What Are The Most Common Triggers That Prompt A DOT Audit?

Any time a driver is placed out-of-service at roadside, it increases the chances of a company audit.

While a safety audit can occur at any time, there are many red flags that trigger the FMCSA to review a company’s operation.

Part of being prepared for a compliance review is knowing what can trigger an audit and how to prevent them from happening.

We will cover five common triggers that could prompt a DOT audit, which include:

  1. High CSA scores
  2. Crashes
  3. Roadside Out-of-Service Violations
  4. Failing a new entrant audit
  5. Complaints

High CSA scores can trigger a DOT audit

The FMCSA created the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program as a method of identifying high-risk commercial motor carriers, as well as the Safety Measurement System (SMS) which uses data from state-reported crashes, roadside inspections, and investigation results from the last two years.

Poor CSA scores will increase your chance of an audit because there are certain “Intervention Thresholds” the FMCSA uses to prioritize interventions.

Interventions are based on the number of percentiles a carrier has at or above the established BASIC Intervention Thresholds.

Being at or above these threshold limits will likely trigger a comprehensive compliance review:

BASIC Intervention ThresholdsGeneral HazmatPassenger
Unsafe Driving, Crash Indicator, HOS Compliance65% 60%50%
Maintenance, Controlled Substances, Driver Fitness80% 75%65%
HM Compliance80% 80%80%

Crashes can trigger a DOT audit

While a single crash could trigger an audit, the severity of the accident will increase your chances and possibly trigger a compliance review without any prior notice.

When it comes to the Unsafe Driving/Crash BASIC indicator, too many violations could trigger an audit.

To reduce the chance of violations in this area, carriers should:

  • Avoid hiring drivers with a history of speeding
  • Eliminate or minimize in-cab distractions like texting and eating
  • Ensure drivers always wear seat belts; and
  • Encourage drivers to avoid tailgating or change lanes without signaling

Out-of-service violations at roadside inspections can trigger a DOT audit

Any time a driver is placed out-of-service at roadside, the chances of a company audit increase.

To prevent drivers from being pulled in for a roadside inspection, carriers should focus on keeping the ISS score and out-of-service ratings as low as possible, especially below the national average.

  • ISS Score
    • 1-49 = Passing
    • 50-74 = Optional
    • 75-100 = Inspect
  • Driver Out-of-Service national average = 5.5%
  • Vehicle Out-of-Service national average = 20.7%

While inspections do happen at random, there are common things that roadside inspectors look for when determining what drivers will be pulled in for inspection.

For example, if you have a headlight out, inspectors may assume the driver did not do a good pre-trip inspection and there could be other maintenance violations they will want to check in more detail.

Additionally, if your truck is dirty, inspectors may assume the driver is not taking care of bigger problems, like brakes or suspension.

Failure of a New Entrant Audit can trigger a DOT audit

While investigators understand that the new entrant audit is a learning curve for many new carriers, the FMCSA will monitor those who did not pass their first audit.

This is where having a firm grasp on the regulations is critical.

A lack of basic safety management controls or failure to comply with any one of the following 16 regulations will result in a notice to revoke your USDOT new entrant registration unless immediate action is taken:

  1. Failing to implement an alcohol and/or controlled substances testing program
  2. Using a driver known to have an alcohol content of 0.04 or greater to perform a safety-sensitive function.
  3. Using a driver who has refused to submit to an alcohol or controlled substances test required under part 382.
  4. Using a driver known to have tested positive for a controlled substance.
  5. Failing to implement a testing program for alcohol and/or random controlled substances.
  6. Knowingly using a driver who does not possess a valid CDL.
  7. Knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting, or authorizing an employee to operate a commercial motor vehicle with a commercial learner’s permit or commercial driver’s license which is disqualified by a State, has lost the right to operate a CMV in a State or who is disqualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
  8. Knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting, or authorizing someone to drive who is disqualified from driving a commercial motor vehicle.
  9. Operating a motor vehicle without having in effect the required minimum levels of financial responsibility coverage.
  10. Operating a passenger carrying vehicle without having in effect the required minimum levels of financial responsibility.
  11. Knowingly using a disqualified driver.
  12. Knowingly using a physically unqualified driver.
  13. Failing to require a driver to make a record of duty status.
  14. Requiring or permitting the operation of a commercial motor vehicle declared ‘‘out-of-service’’ before repairs are made.
  15. Failing to correct out-of-service defects listed by driver in a driver vehicle inspection report before the vehicle is operated again.
  16. Using a commercial motor vehicle not periodically inspected.

Complaints can trigger a DOT audit

Finally, anyone who finds out that a motor carrier or truck driver is engaging in negligent behavior can file a complaint with the FMCSA within 90 days from the time they learned about the behavior.

To file an FMCSA complaint, they can either call the agency at 888-DOT-SAFT or fill out an online complaint form.

Once the complaint is submitted, it becomes part of the trucking company’s permanent record in the National Consumer Complaint Database and will eventually prompt the FMCSA to investigate, especially if there are multiple recent or serious complaints.

Proactive Safety Management

Accuracy, organization, and diligence are crucial to keeping your files in order and ready for an audit at a moment’s notice and ensuring new drivers are properly qualified before operating in a safety sensitive position.

At CNS, our DQ file management system is completely customizable to your company’s needs. The consultants at CNS stay in communication with you regarding document updating, as well as offering comprehensive reports upon request, and reports of routine audits by our own DQ file auditors.

Our DOT Compliance Specialists will ensure all DQ files for your company will be ready to pass an FMCSA audit.

Beyond DQ files, our safety management programs are perfect for combining multiple services and focuses on Proactive Safety Management (PSM), a mindset that will ensure your fleet’s safety and compliance is always in order and ahead of the FMCSA.

Our PSM Motor Carrier Program includes:

  • ELD management
  • Driver Qualification File 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

For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.

FMCSA increases fines twice this year for trucking regulation violations

FMCSA increases fines for trucking regulation violations

As of May 3, 2021, the DOT has increased the fine amount for trucking violations to reflect inflation, but why twice in one year?

Due to the 2020 inflation fine increase that happened January 11, the May 3 announcement for 2021 annual changes means it is the second time this year the U.S. Department of Transportation adjusted fines.

The DOT must publish any annual minimum and maximum penalty adjustments by January 15 of every year, and the new levels take effect immediately upon publication of the rule. This means we will not see another fine increase until after January 16, 2022 or later.

This is in accordance with the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015.

This latest change means the fine amounts have been increased 1.01182 percent.

For example, new minimum penalty for Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) violations [49 U.S.C. 521(b)(2)(C)] or employer violations pertaining to knowingly allowing, authorizing employee violations of out-of-service order [49 U.S.C. 521(b)(2)(C)] will be $5,902 instead of $5,833.

This rule does not change previously assessed or enforced penalties that DOT is actively collecting or has collected.

2021 FMCSA Fines List

For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.


What To Expect During A New Entrant Audit

What To Expect During A New Entrant Audit

In 2020, the FMCSA and state enforcers may have conducted over 50% of all compliance reviews remotely where just 10% were conducted in 2019 and 2% in 2018.

To ensure compliance with applicable Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs), and related record-keeping requirements, motor carriers must undergo a Safety Audit within the first 12 months of their operations to complete the New Entrant Program.

As a new entrant into trucking or other industry, it is required to follow Department of Transportation regulations (transportation, construction, manufacturing, etc) and the DOT will want to see some established records and processes.

Download FMCSA 32 Page Safety Audit Resource Guide.

The new entrant safety audit is generally done between the first six to twelve months of operation and is required for any company with a DOT number that is:

  • involved in the transportation of property or passengers in interstate commerce,
  • with a vehicle of gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of more than 10,000 lbs.
  • and subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR)

Companies operating solely in intrastate commerce are subject to applicable state regulations regarding commercial motor vehicles.

It is important to understand that the New Entrant Safety Audit is a requirement for all new trucking start-ups.

So, knowing that a safety audit is coming, what should new companies expect?

 

What would cause a motor carrier to fail a new entrant safety audit?

A safety audit involves the seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASIC) factors to determine the new carrier’s compliance with the safety regulations and assist in establishing a sound safety program.

The key to compliance with any audit is documentation.

A carrier could do everything right in complying with the regulations but if it is not documented, or they  are unable to present the documents to the safety officer  then the carrier will end up failing the audit. A common cause of a new entrant audit failure is the inability to produce documentation of pre-employment drug test results.

This audit could be in person or done off-site where the carrier will upload required documentation directly to the FMCSA website for them to review.

Auditors may request documents related to drivers, vehicles, and general operating procedures and record-keeping requirements.

A lack of basic safety management controls or failure to comply with any one of the following 16 regulations will result in a notice to a new entrant that its USDOT new entrant registration will be revoked:

  1. Failing to implement an alcohol and/or controlled substances testing program
  2. Using a driver known to have an alcohol content of 0.04 or greater to perform a safety-sensitive function.
  3. Using a driver who has refused to submit to an alcohol or controlled substances test required under part 382.
  4. Using a driver known to have tested positive for a controlled substance.
  5. Failing to implement a testing program for alcohol and/or random controlled substances.
  6. Knowingly using a driver who does not possess a valid CDL.
  7. Knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting, or authorizing an employee to operate a commercial motor vehicle with a commercial learner’s permit or commercial driver’s license which is disqualified by a State, has lost the right to operate a CMV in a State or who is disqualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
  8. Knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting, or authorizing someone to drive who is disqualified from driving a commercial motor vehicle.
  9. Operating a motor vehicle without having in effect the required minimum levels of financial responsibility coverage.
  10. Operating a passenger carrying vehicle without having in effect the required minimum levels of financial responsibility.
  11. Knowingly using a disqualified driver.
  12. Knowingly using a physically unqualified driver.
  13. Failing to require a driver to make a record of duty status.
  14. Requiring or permitting the operation of a commercial motor vehicle declared ‘‘out-of-service’’ before repairs are made.
  15. Failing to correct out-of-service defects listed by driver in a driver vehicle inspection report before the vehicle is operated again.
  16. Using a commercial motor vehicle not periodically inspected.

Once the New Entrant Safety Audit is complete, the auditor will review the findings with the carrier. Within 45 days, the carrier will receive written notification from FMCSA confirming that they have passed or failed.

If they pass the audit, the carrier’s safety performance will continue to be closely monitored for the remainder of the 18-month new entrant period. If no subsequent safety problems are found, the carrier will be granted permanent operating authority and continue to be monitored under CSA.

 

Off-site FMCSA safety audits are on the rise

During an off-site review, a safety auditor conducts the audit remotely, assessing a carrier’s safety performance and safety management practices by requesting specific documents from the carrier.

In 2018, the FMCSA said off-site audits would be restricted to less-serious carrier problems and would not be allowed in the case of maintenance BASIC violations.

However, the FMCSA changed its tone during the COVID-19 pandemic and immediately expanded the use of remote motor carrier safety compliance reviews.

According to CCJ Magazine, “It’s a new twist,” said Lesley Sachs, a partner at the national transportation-focused law firm Taylor & Associates, based in Winter Haven, Florida. “Carriers need to pay attention. It’s something to take seriously. The opportunity presented itself with COVID, and FMCSA seized it.”

In 2020, the FMCSA and state enforcers may have conducted over 50% of all compliance reviews remotely where just 10% were conducted in 2019 and 2% in 2018.

Although the regulatory definition of compliance review describes the reviews as on-site, FMCSA said the influx of electronic recordkeeping and other technology allows the agency to perform the same investigative functions remotely.

FMCSA’s offsite audits generally take two weeks or less and the investigator will complete the process by phone.

 

How do you schedule the FMCSA new entrant audit?

The investigator will contact you by phone or email to schedule the audit.

Generally, they will try contacting the company by phone first and if they are unable to get a hold of them, they will email you.

According to Harry Sanders, retired from the FMCSA, “The letters FMCSA sent out would be confusing and sometimes a carrier would operate after their revocation date. That would subject them to more headaches in the form of fines and CMVs possible OOS (out-of-service) roadside.”

For off-site audits, the investigator will mention they are required to upload information such as accident records, driver lists, equipment lists, MC-90 forms and other records. Carriers may also be required to fill out a questionnaire with basic details such as revenue and mileage data, insurance information, addresses and other operational information.

If an auditor has attempted to contact you, do not put off getting back to them. The FMCSA has processes in place that they follow and if you do not get back to them, they will mail a notice letter or demand letter with detailed instructions of what they are requesting and the timeline in which you must respond.

If you ignore this request, the company can face monetary fines (around $1,000 for the first 10 days, or up to $10,000) or suspension of authority to operate for refusing to cooperate.

The audit should be scheduled in two or three weeks so the carrier can prepare for the audit.

 

What Happens If Violations Are Found During FMCSA New Entrant Audit?

If the carrier fails the safety audit, the FMCSA will provide the carrier written documentation detailing the violations that caused the carrier to fail and the requirements for developing a corrective action plan (CAP).

According to Harry Sanders, retired from the FMCSA, “I think the biggest concern from most carriers that went through an audit and failed was the uncertainty of submitting a CAP and if it was acceptable and changed the rating from fail to pass.”

The CAP must explain the actions the carrier will take to address the violations identified.

CAPs must be submitted to the FCMSA Service Center within the number of days specified on the failure notification. Failure to either submit a CAP, or implement the corrective actions, will result in loss of FMCSA registration.

CNS is very well-versed in safety and compliance laws and our experienced representatives know what information is crucial and imperative to accomplish a safety rating increase. We work directly with the client on implementing and training staff to meet the requirements necessary.

These corrective action plans are complicated and take a lot of work to be completed.

Learn more on how we can help with your safety rating upgrade. 

Do you have a good safety rating but are still worried you may not pass an audit?

Learn more how CNS can help you prepare for an audit.

 

 

DOT Increases Fines and Includes Civil Penalties of CDL Clearinghouse Violations

DOT Increases Fines and Includes Civil Penalties of CDL Clearinghouse Violations

As of January 11, 2021, the DOT gives authority to issue fines for violating Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse requirements.

This new year brings the annual changes to the U.S. Department of Transportation adjusted fines and the second full year of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrations CDL Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse.

In accordance with the Federal Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015, the DOT published a final rule detailing the 2020 inflation adjustments to civil penalty amounts that may be imposed for violations of certain DOT regulations.

The DOT must publish any annual minimum and maximum penalty adjustments by January 15 of every year, and the new levels take effect immediately upon publication of the rule, which was January 11, 2021.

Fine amounts have been increased 1.01764 percent.

For example, Commercial driver’s license (CDL) violations [49 U.S.C. 521(b)(2)(C)] or employer violations pertaining to knowingly allowing, authorizing employee violations of out-of-service order [49 U.S.C. 521(b)(2)(C)] new minimum penalty will be $5,833.

This rule does not change previously assessed or enforced penalties that DOT is actively collecting or has collected.

FMCSA also revised appendix B to include civil penalties for an employer, employee, medical review officer, or service agent who violates the regulations implementing the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse at 49 CFR part 382, subpart G.

 

Upcoming FMCSA CDL Clearinghouse Violations

As of October 2020, more than 150,000 employers and owner-operators have registered with the Clearinghouse. According to the FMCSA, this number is well off the 525,000 estimated regulated motor carriers in the U.S.

With the FMCSA Clearinghouse now in effect for pre-employment, random testing and return-to-duty processes, employers of CDL drivers must follow a new pre-employment process when hiring a potential new driver.

Violations can occur if required information is not loaded into the database, or if new-hired drivers start driving before a new hire gives consent for a detailed query.

The employer needs to make sure the driver is registered to the FMCSA Clearinghouse, then request electronic driver consent to run a detailed query, run a query on the driver (employer or C/TPA), and ensure no recent negative drug testing history is present.

The other major required process for employers, including owner-operators, is to annually query all current CDL drivers at least once a year to make sure no violations appeared in the database. If the limited query returns any results, a detailed query is required.

This means the majority of CDL drivers need to have had a limited query run on them by January 6, 2021 or they face potential audit violations and fines if a DOT Officer determines the queries were completed late or not at all.

Employers are also required to report any other drug or alcohol violations by their drivers to the database. This can include direct observation of an employee using alcohol or a controlled substance while on the job, information obtained from a previous employer, and traffic citations for driving a commercial vehicle under the influence.

Any fleet or O/O who does not comply with the Clearinghouse rules is subject to civil and criminal penalties, which could include fines up to $2,500 per offense. 

Note:  Clearinghouse violations can still be cited and fined even though they occurred prior to the effective date of this rulemaking.


The 2020 adjustments to these civil penalties are summarized in the chart below.

https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2021-01-11/pdf/2020-25236.pdf

For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.

How to protect yourself from truck accident litigation with compliant driver files

compliant driver files

Every year, government auditors find hundreds of violations when reviewing DQ files for compliance.

A critical element in maintaining a safe carrier operation is monitoring driver qualifications files effectively and in compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules. 

When your driver files are not in compliance, the company faces risks of misplacing documents, filing inaccurately, incurring violations, or being hit with costly litigation.

Truck accidents are inevitable and more than 50% of these crashes are caused by driver fatigue and driver error, according to statements made by the Pennsylvania State Police motor carrier enforcement unit at the CNS and NIS Safety Conference earlier this year.

Litigators will look at the crash information and the driver files to find unsafe driver trends. If the company handles their hiring and driver qualification process well, there is a reduced chance of litigators finding unsafe driver trends that can harm the company with violations and heavy fines.  

So, what are driver qualification files?

Put simply, a driver qualification file is the driver’s personnel file and is required for anyone driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle as defined be the FMCSA in 49 CFR 390.5 or state authorities.

Check out our industry library resources of 15 videos, 2 ebooks, industry links, and CNS In The News content.

A DQ file is needed even if the driver is a mechanic quickly moving a vehicle, the company owner moving a vehicle, a part-time or temporary driver, or a driver who works for a private company.

After a job offer is extended to a driver, carriers need to build a driver file that includes:

  • driver’s licenses
  • employment application
  • previous employer inquires
  • motor vehicle records
  • credit history and background checks
  • drug test results
  • FMCSA Clearinghouse queries
  • medical certificates
  • and more

Driver File Management

Questions about Driver File Management? Fill out the form to get started


What information needs to be gathered in driver qualification files (DQF)?

The difficult part of the DQ File is that companies must know the driver qualifications file requirements to pass a safety audit. Every year, government auditors find hundreds of violations when reviewing DQ files for compliance.

Most of the time, violations occur for a few reasons, including:

  • companies taking shortcuts in the hiring process
  • staff managing the driver files not being trained in DOT regulations, or
  • companies not realizing they must meet these stringent driver qualification file requirements if their fleet is not focused on trucking.

 

Using driver files to protect yourself from truck accident liability

Sometimes companies may hire and retain employees who are not qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.

Other times, the driver’s history and record might be okay, but the company did not build a complete driver file to reflect this.    

The consequences of can be steep as companies face litigation and blame.

In a litigator’s eyes, driver qualification files reflect any kind of negligent hiring and retention claims and provide punitive damages against the carrier for continuing to employ someone they knew was dangerous or could hurt someone.

For example, if the employer failed to do a thorough background check on the driver, that can support a strong negligent hiring claim.

Similarly, if the driver had any previous violations, this is very important in terms of proving notice against the carrier to support a claim for punitive damages.

At a minimum, an annual review of driving performance and insuring driving credentials are valid can reduce unsafe drivers or pinpoint areas where further training could correct bad driving habits.

Driver information litigators look for after an accident:

  • governmental agencies responses to inquiries regarding driver records
  • driver’s past employment records and employers showing they contacted them (or repeatedly tried to) at the time of the driver’s employment
  • driver’s workers’ compensation file
  • medical evaluations of the driver
  • drug test results, including negative results
  • driver training testing documents and company safety meetings attendance
  • driver’s DOT file
  • prior violations
  • driver’s annual reviews
  • disciplinary records

Beyond these records, companies need to avoid these common driver file violations:

  • not having a current DOT medical card on file
  • not having the initial driving record on file (MVR)
  • not having a DQ file for each driver that needs one 

Proactive Driver Qualification File Management

Accuracy, organization, and diligence are crucial to keeping your files in order and ready for an audit at a moment’s notice and ensuring new drivers are properly qualified before operating in a safety sensitive position.

At CNS, our DQ file management system is completely customizable to your company’s needs. The consultants at CNS stay in communication with you regarding document updating, as well as offering comprehensive reports upon request, and reports of routine audits by our own DQ file auditors.

Our DOT Compliance Specialists will ensure all DQ files for your company will be ready to pass an FMCSA audit.

Start managing your DQ Files now


Combining multiple services?

Our safety management programs are perfect for combining multiple services and can be tailored to fit your needs, whether you are a new owner operator or a seasoned trucker or business owner.

At CNS, our DOT Compliance Programs focus on Proactive Safety Management (PSM), a mindset that will ensure your fleet’s safety and compliance is always in order and ahead of the FMCSA.

Our PSM Motor Carrier Program includes:

  • ELD management
  • Driver Qualification File 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

For more information, contact us at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.


IFTA Audits – What to expect and how to prepare


Are you prepared for an IFTA Audit?

When it comes an audit, the best defense is a great offense. And the best offense is knowledge.

Knowing what will happen in an audit and being prepared with sufficient record-keeping will keep you ready for an audit at any time.

We have interviewed Adam Galante, our Vice President of Operations, to talk about electronic record-keeping requirements for an IFTA audit.

Tracking system requirements for an IFTA Audit

What are the requirements for the different tracking systems available to carriers?

When using a GPS tracking system, there are several data points you want to be sure are recording accurately.

The required data sets for an IFTA audit are:

  • date and times
  • the odometer or the ECM reading or hubometer reading
  • longitude and latitude readings for each ping

In addition, carriers need to ensure the readings are made in a sufficient manner, at correct intervals, and readings must be recorded to the fourth decimal point.

What is a sufficient interval for recording GPS data?

The GPS needs to ping at intervals of less than five minutes. Be sure the tracking system you are using is set to this interval.

Also, consider various factors about the routes drivers take, by asking questions like:

  • what is the distance the driver will be traveling?
  • is it a short or long route? Are there a lot of hills or is it mostly flat?
  • how often are drivers crossing state lines?
  • is the GPS tracking system proper geofencing around the different states?

Note: Geofencing needs to map the entire state all the way around.

What would be considered inadequate or insufficient data recording?

An IFTA auditor will look for several factors when evaluating electronic record-keeping from the GPS tracking system.

IFTA auditors will check:

  • if the GPS is meeting the interval of less than 5 minutes for every ping
  • if the GPS tracking system is using proper state geofencing
    • For example, if the geofencing isn’t mapping the entire state all the way around, your data will be inadequate.
  • if the odometer readings put into the GPS match the odometer on the vehicle
  • if longitude and latitude lines aren’t recorded to the fourth decimal point

If you want CNS to perform a mock IFTA audit, we can tell you if you are in compliance.

To talk with an IFTA specialist, call or email CNS at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.

What should carriers look for when purchasing a compliant tracking system?

Make sure the tracking systems can record the sufficient data points, as mentioned above.

In addition, GPS tracking systems should be able to:

  • set recording intervals to under 5 minutes – this is very important!
  • record time stamps for each state crossing
  • record longitude and latitude for every ping to the fourth decimal point
  • know how the provider is accumulating their unknown miles and providing that information to you.

What are the most common reoccurring problems in processing fuel taxes?

When auditors process fuel taxes, they often come across these five error points:

  1. bad GPS data
  2. insufficient GPS information coming through
  3. GPS pings are not set to the correct intervals of less than five minutes
  4. broken GPS hardware
    1. once it’s broken the data normally can’t be retrieved
  5. poor fuel tax reporting
    1. faded, unorganized fuel receipts or fuel purchase pre-authorization slips that cannot be read.

If you can resolve these fives common fuel tax issues, you will be well-prepared for an IFTA audit!

Read our previous blog post for more tips on Surviving an IFTA Audit.



IFTA Fuel Tax Service

Keep your electronic record-keeping accurate with CNS Fuel Tax Service

The fuel tax service at CNS stands out because it offers carriers these benefits:

  • secure data storage with a portal login
  • experts familiar with IFTA audits and GPS tracking systems
  • affordable pricing that will work for any business

The thought of an audit should not scare you if you are prepared. Use your electronic record-keeping as a resource to keep you prepared for any inspection or audit situation. When your records are accurate and secure, your business will be too!

To talk with an IFTA specialist, call or email CNS at 888.260.9448 or info@cnsprotects.com.