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What are the safety ratings a carrier can receive and what do they mean?

As part of its commitment to driver and public safety, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) administers safety ratings outlined in 49 CFR Part 385. The purpose of the ratings is to determine the fitness of every motor carrier based on its onsite investigation results. The FMCSA maintains these records as part of its SAFER program, which stands for Safety and Fitness Electronic Records.

Understanding the safety ratings of the FMCSA

The FMCSA issues one of three ratings to a motor carrier after it has submitted to an-onsite investigation. When a carrier receives an unsatisfactory rating, it means that the company practices poor internal management controls and it has violated the FMCSA’s safety fitness standard. A motor carrier assigned a final rating of unsatisfactory cannot operate any commercial motor vehicles for the purpose of interstate commerce. Motor carriers can find more information about potential violations under 49 CFR 385.3 and information about the consequences of an unsatisfactory rating under 49 CFR 385.13(a).

A conditional safety rating is the second of three potential ratings a motor carrier can receive. It means that the inspector for the on-site investigation felt that the motor carrier has inadequate safety controls but has yet to violate any safety fitness standards. Motor carriers that receive a conditional safety rating should learn what they can do to improve to the next level and then take those steps before the next investigation.

The safety rating that all motor carriers want to receive is satisfactory. An inspector will only grant this rating if fully compliant with safety fitness standards. The carrier will also need to demonstrate strong internal controls that prevent accidents and other safety issues. The inspector must be able to review the full scope of standard elements for the safety fitness program before granting this rating.

How motor carriers can receive satisfactory ratings

While the most severe consequence of an unsatisfactory safety rating is receiving an order to cease driving interstate, the consequences of a poor onsite investigation can affect motor carriers in several other ways as well. They may need to pay a fine to the FMCSA or United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and obtain costly vehicle repairs, and they could suffer lost income while vehicles remain grounded.

Motor carriers can avoid these frustrating, expensive, and potentially embarrassing issues by taking advantage of the many resources offered by the FMCSA to improve commercial driver and vehicle safety. They also need to insist on driver compliance and ensure that each driver frequently reviews FMCSA safety regulations. Testing drivers on safety issues can help them to retain the information better. It’s also a good idea for motor carriers to review violation and crash data often to determine patterns they could address with improved training.

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