By Richard Pummell, Foley Carrier Services
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) expects all Department of Transportation (DOT)-regulated business owners to do their part in dissuading non-compliant behavior while drivers are on the road, but aside from accompanying drivers on their trips many owners are at a loss as to what they can do.
What is “non-compliant” behavior?
The term “non-compliant” is vague and can encompass a wide range of activities, so let’s identify a few of the most common areas of driver non-compliance in terms of the FMCSA.
Hours-of-Service: Drivers may not calculate their hours or fill in their logs/time records correctly, or they may skip mandatory rest breaks or drive beyond the hours-of-service limits in order to make good time.
Moving Violations: Many of us have heavy feet and are prone to gliding through stop signs, but these common infractions can cause tremendous headaches for DOT-regulated business owners.
Vehicle Maintenance: Many drivers will be pulled over for something as small as a light being out, but minor breaches often turn into full roadside inspections that result in more serious violations.
It is important that all DOT-regulated employers implement a set of progressive disciplinary policies that all drivers are required to sign off on. Policies should be issued at the time of hire and filed in the employee’s personnel file. Disciplinary policies should clearly lay out what your expectations are while drivers are on the road and what steps will be taken should a driver deviate from your policy.
All policies should illustrate the repercussions of a first-time violation and subsequent violations. For example, a first-time speeding violation will carry disciplinary action of a verbal warning; a second-time speeding violation will be a written warning; a third-time violation, suspension without pay; a fourth-time violation, termination of employment.
The FMCSA considers it your responsibility to ensure that your drivers are consistently completing Daily Vehicle Inspection Reports so that you are aware of any/all defects that need to be repaired. It is crucial to impress upon drivers (through written disciplinary policies) that it is their responsibility to alert you of any defects as soon as possible so that repairs can be made within a reasonable timeframe.
For example: For defects that pose imminent hazards – such as anything that has to do with brakes – repairs must be made before the vehicle is allowed to operate. For minor defects – such as an inoperable blinker – the vehicle may be driven to get the repair. (Please note that it is just as crucial to be able to provide documentation of all repairs that are made.)
Carrying Out Disciplinary Action
Having signed disciplinary policies is all well and good as long as you are actually carrying out disciplinary action when necessary. It is crucial to strictly enforce your policies and to document any and all action taken.
Run Driver Motor Vehicle Reports (aka driving records) on a regular basis
This is the best way to know of any moving violations or infractions that one of your drivers may have received that he/she hasn’t told you about. The FMCSA requires driving records to be run no less than once every 12 months, but the best practice is to run them every month or two.
Monitor Your Safety Score
The FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) is another good way to make sure you are aware of pull-overs and roadside inspections that your drivers may not have disclosed. Go to ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms/ to log in to your account.
It is up to you to ensure that you are using drivers who have adequate knowledge of FMCSA requirements. The best practice is to require all new hires to complete at least Hours-of-Service and Defensive Driver Training within 30 days of beginning employment with you. You should also make sure drivers are aware of where to find specific FMCSA regulations regarding logging hours and vehicle maintenance.
You must be able to demonstrate that you take all possible measures to ensure the safety of your drivers and your vehicles. Just as parents are held responsible for illicit behavior that their children may engage in, so the FMCSA considers you responsible for your drivers.