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.