Federal Carrier Regulations and Small Truck Fleets

Federal Carrier Regulations and Small Truck Fleets

FMCSA does not differentiate between long-haul truckers and local fuel companies

By Richard Pummell, Foley Carrier Services

Anybody who has gone through the process of obtaining a DOT number has had some experience with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Many smaller businesses, particularly independent home service companies, assume their time with the FMCSA ends when that process is complete. We tend to think of the FMCSA as the agency whose primary responsibility is to monitor multi-driver, long haul trucking fleets.

Interestingly enough, many large trucking fleets remain in fairly good-standing with the FMCSA while the “little guys” tend to find themselves in hot water. Why is that? You would think that larger companies would encounter more problems with the DOT, but as any small business owner who has undergone a DOT audit can attest, that is not always the case.

How does the FMCSA differentiate between independent home service companies and large motor carriers?

In a nutshell, it doesn’t.

The FMCSA holds anybody who is required to have a DOT number to the same standards, regardless of their type of business or the size of their company. If your business owns or leases at least one Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) or Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of 10,001 pounds or more, or if you are a carrier of hazmat that requires placarding, you are subject to a FMCSA audit and must be in compliance with federal regulations.

Many small business owners don’t believe that maintaining compliance with federal regulations is a component of their business that deserves time and effort. After all, they say, I am just a small local business… what does the FMCSA care about me? That is the very thinking that can get you in trouble. Just as filing your taxes with the IRS is a necessary component of your business, so is maintaining compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

How can I make sure I am in compliance with the FMCSRs?

There are several steps you can take to assess your compliance.

1. Learn the regulations

Pick up a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations book or log onto the FMCSA website at www.fmcsa.dot.gov. Begin to familiarize yourself with the regulations and learn what your requirements are.

2. Get Organized

Organization is crucial. You should create a filing system specifically designed for keeping records of at least:

  • Driver Logs/Time Records
  • Vehicle Maintenance Records
  • Drug & Alcohol Testing
  • Roadside Inspection Reports

Not good with paperwork and staying organized? Then think about hiring an individual, or outsource to a company who is. Paying an individual to keep track of regulatory paperwork will cost a lot less in money, time and stress than trying to iron out a problematic audit with the FMCSA.

3. Purchase Training and/or Software

There are various websites and companies (including Foley Carrier Services) that offer training and software to assist you with compliance in Hours-of-Service, Vehicle Maintenance Recordkeeping and Drug & Alcohol Testing.

Are you at risk of being audited by the FMCSA?

Although a FMCSA audit is always a possibility, certain factors will raise your chances.

Accidents: Even one accident can put you on the FMCSA’s radar. If an accident occurs it is crucial to set up a file specifically for the accident and maintain any and all documentation for at least 3 years.

Roadside Inspections: There tends to be some confusion about when a roadside inspection will negatively affect your safety rating. The reason for this is because officers may not issue a driver a ticket for any problems that are found. Therefore it is assumed that you are off the hook. However, the officer may log an Out-of-Service violation of a FMCSA regulation that will go against your company, and possibly alert the FMCSA to pay more attention to you.

Failure of a New Entrant Safety Audit: It is never a good thing to start off on the wrong foot. The FMCSA tends to monitor companies who did not pass their New Entrant Safety Audit at the get-go.

Federal regulations are vast, complex and can be daunting. It is easy to feel as if the FMCSA is “out to get the little guy,” but safety is the primary objective. Having general knowledge of rules and believing your company’s safety standards are on par with the FMCSA’s expectations is not enough. You need to acquire adequate understanding of the regulations and implement an effective system of maintaining compliance.

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