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Will a violation count against the driver, the motor carrier, or both?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) operates a program called the Safety Measurement System (SMS) to improve the safety of commercial drivers as well as the driving public. This program identifies drivers with unsafe driving behaviors and prioritizes them for intervention based on the number and severity of their violations. SMS operates under the authority of another FMCSA program called Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA). Motor carriers are entirely responsible for their drivers under the SMS program. That means a violation charged to a driver becomes part of the motor carrier’s record.

How driver violations impact SMS evaluations of motor carriers

The SMS only evaluates crash and inspection reports of motor carriers under the unique number assigned to them by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT). Only the violations that occur while a driver is employed by a motor carrier count toward that motor carrier’s overall SMS evaluation. That means anything prior to the hire or after the termination of a driver doesn’t go against the motor carrier.

However, data from violations that occurred during the driver’s course of employment will remain part of the motor carrier’s overall score for 24 months from the date of each incident. Each occurrence will have a diminishing impact on the motor carrier as the weighted severity lessens and the occurrence eventually drops off the record altogether.

Does the FMCSA ever assign accountability for a violation only to drivers?

Unfortunately for motor carriers, the answer to this question is no. The FMCSA always assigns driver violations to the company that employs him or her, even for owner-operators operating under the DOT number of a motor carrier.

If the FMCSA determines that the driver is responsible for the violation or at least could have prevented it, the organization will place this information in the driver’s file as well. Doing so helps future employers avoid irresponsible drivers who cause violations and then continually move from one motor carrier to the next to avoid consequences for poor driving behavior.

Motor carriers must educate drivers

It’s up to motor carriers to educate their drivers about the importance of safe driving and roadside inspections. Drivers should know that all violations count under SMS, not just those that result in an out of service violation. They should also understand that their overall performance affects their pre-employment screening program records as well as the motor carrier’s records.

Additionally, the FMCSA recommends that motor carriers regularly review data over the past 24 months to identify patterns and areas that require improvement. It’s also a good idea to routinely review the resources of the FMCSA website regarding SMS and how to improve.

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