CSA: The enforcement

| 3/16/2010

You could probably flip a coin to decide which scares a motor carrier more – a full-blown, on-site compliance review or an IRS audit.

Neither one is a pleasant experience. They are both lengthy, burdensome processes.

The on-site compliance review – currently pretty much FMCSA’s only tool in its enforcement arsenal – is such an involved process that with current staffing levels, fewer than 2 percent of the motor carriers in the country are audited each year.

That too will change with the launch of CSA 2010.

After all of the violations are entered, chewed up and spit out of the CSA 2010 Safety Management System, motor carriers will be rated in all of the BASIC compliance areas. The higher the ranking percentile, the more noncompliant the motor carrier. These rankings will be updated on a continual basis.

Those rankings will help FMCSA enforcement personnel determine what method of enforcement – now called interventions – to pick. Enforcement will no longer be a one-size-fits-all scenario.

Enforcement can be triggered by:

  • One or more deficient BASICs,
  • A high crash indicator, or
  • A complaint or fatal crash.

Intervention selection is influenced by safety performance, hazardous material or passenger carrier status, intervention history and investigator discretion.

Interventions include early contact in the form of a warning letter; carrier access to safety data and measurement information (where you can see your own rating increasing, making it easier to get ahead of the problem); and targeted roadside inspections. Enforcement steps up from there with investigations, which include off-site investigations, on-site focused investigations, and on site-comprehensive investigations.

Finally, to make sure compliance is achieved and maintained, FMCSA officials implemented “follow-on” interventions. These include the following:

  • A cooperative safety plan – implemented by the carrier and voluntary. The carrier and FMCSA work together to create a plan, based on a standard template, to address the underlying problems that cause the motor carrier’s substandard compliance.
  • Notice of violation – a formal notice of safety deficiencies that requires a response. It’s a stopgap measure of sorts. The violations are bad enough for enforcement, just not bad enough for a fine. FMCSA will also use it when violations can be immediately corrected and the motor carriers are in full cooperation to fix the problems.
  • Notice of claim. This is where fines are assessed.
  • And, finally, a settlement agreement. This is a contract negotiated with the carrier that addresses the safety problem, defers or reduces penalties, or terminates enforcement proceedings.

The trick to the interventions is that FMCSA enforcement personnel can start the enforcement process anywhere along that ladder of enforcement. It does not necessarily start with a letter and progress through the steps.

The higher the risk posed by the motor carrier’s lack of compliance, the more likely it is to face stiff enforcement in lieu of a warning letter. On the flip side, if the non-compliance is not as severe, the warning letter may be all that’s needed to let the motor carriers know there is an issue, giving them the chance to fix it.

On the driver’s side of CSA 2010, FMCSA enforcement officials will be able to review a driver’s record across multiple employers. They will also be able to see drivers with severe violations when they are in the process of conducting intervention enforcement on the motor carriers the driver works for or is leased to.

If the violations and level of non-compliance is bad enough, individual drivers will face the notice of violation or notice of claim – which is the fine – just like motor carriers.