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What You Need To Know About FMCSA Compliance Review Trends

When it comes to pre-trip inspections, it is now far easier for a safety auditor to see when a driver is not properly doing their job. Why? Consider that the FMCSA has now changed the process for completing a compliance review.

The revamped compliance review – which has been in place for some time – expands the interviews the FMCSA completes with specific members of the organization. Still, this doesn’t mean there has been a major overhaul in how the FMCSA completes a compliance review.

For some time now, the FMCSA has been moving away from full reviews and closer to focused reviews. Still, new trends are emerging as the FMCSA slightly shifts its focus.

CSA Scores or Complaints?

If you look at historical trends, the FMCSA has generally put complaints below CSA scores on their list of review priorities. Up until now, a BASIC alert was the primary factor for whether the FMCSA decided to complete a compliance review. Now, that is changing.

The main reason for the shift is in two areas. One is the truck driver coercion rule and another is how easy it has become for a complaint to be filed, which has dramatically increased the volume of complaints flooding into the office.

Many complaints are now treated as though some form of coercion has taken place, even if little to no evidence of coercion is found. This is leading to carriers who have no BASIC score alerts undergoing a focused review.

Hours of Service

Despite a move away from paper logs and toward electronic logging, hours of service violations still abound. This is especially the case where false logs are concerned.

Therefore, it is so important for fleets to ensure that the time being reported is cross referenced with the truck driver’s log. And this must go beyond a simple accounting for the date.

Whether the fleet looks at fuel reports, tolls or reimbursements receipts, there are several ways to cross-reference what is being reported.

Medical Card Changes

With the “grace” period ending, it is more important than ever that a motor carrier verify a physician’s license utilizing a national registry or running a CDLIS report.

Should you run a report from an arbitrary fleet system or utilize the CDLIS report? To avoid a potential focused review, it is very important to utilize a CDLIS report.

Consider that on your own internal report, you may not have all the necessary information at hand. The fact is, you don’t want to risk it, so why not run the report that you know will ensure you have all the boxes checked?

Managing Your DVIR Process

It is now easier than ever for an inspector to make a case against a truck driver who doesn’t have a proper vehicle inspection report on hand. The new rule now requires that a DVIR must be filled out when a defect has occurred, which makes it easier for an inspector to make a case for a focused audit.

This essentially means inspectors can use a roadside inspection with a maintenance issue listed and corroborate that issue with a DVIR that correspond with the date listed. It’s also important to pay close attention to breakdown reports, repair orders and maintenance records. If these show obvious problems that the truck driver should have been aware of – but weren’t listed – you could find yourself on the receiving end of a review.

Finally, it’s important to ensure your operators are not operating with a suspended or invalid CDL. While this may seem like a very basic requirement, it is resulting in even more violations than ever. Ensure an internal process is set up to monitor each of your truck drivers’ CDL statuses.

The Secret Tips to Running a Trucking Business

Running a business of your own is basically part of the American dream. There’s nothing more exciting than the thought of being your own boss and being able to make a lot of money. You’d like to run your own business, but you aren’t sure what kind you’d like own. You don’t want to sell things to other people, and you don’t want to go into the food or service industry. You’ve considered turn-key operations where the money makes itself, but you think you’d want something that’s more hands on.

If you want to try something different, running a trucking business could be the new venture you’re looking for.

A profitable industry

It’s been known that the ability to drive a fleet vehicle is a coveted job skill. Being able to drive a big rig can make you money, but owning a company that sends out the rigs is even more profitable.

If you’re looking for something that’s profitable, the trucking industry could be what you need.

It’s estimated that the industry itself generates around $650 billion in revenue every year, and that number is only expected to grow.

There are over 11 million registered large trucks in the country, so you won’t have an issue finding the equipment you need to get started.

There’s money to be made in the industry, but only if you’re a good fit for the job.

What to consider before running a trucking business

Trucking is a growing and popular industry, but that doesn’t mean that just anyone can succeed in it.

Almost any budding entrepreneur thinks that they would be perfect for it, but a lot goes into being able to manage a fleet.

Aside from having a good business sense you need to have management skills, the ability to problem solve, and the ability to analyze data.

You’re going to be wearing a lot of hats when you’re running your business, and you need to be prepared to handle the workload.

If you want your business to be successful, there are a few things you need to do.

Estimate your costs accurately 

Starting a trucking business isn’t as simple as buying a few fleet vehicles and getting some drivers.

Running a trucking business costs a lot of money that goes beyond the price of the trucks and the employee’s salaries.

Maintenance can cost a significant amount of money.  Trucks need to be examined frequently to make sure that they’re running well.

Some companies take maintenance so seriously that they’ll have a mechanic look at each truck when it comes back from a delivery.

There’s also the cost of employee benefits and insurance. Both vehicles and employees need to be insured for a variety of things.

On top of this, there’s rental costs for your lot and business, and other costs are bound to pop up along the way.

Talk to a financial adviser so you can determine what you’ll need money wise to start your business.

This is important because you’ll need to…

Get a good loan 

 

When you’re discussing your budget with your financial adviser, make sure to talk about the loan amount they think is best for you.

Since you’re getting a loan, it’s also important to make sure that you look like a great potential investment to your lender.

Take some time to bring up your credit score before you apply.  Also, consider asking someone with stellar credit to co-sign your loan if you’re worried about your score.

Consider subcontracting truck drivers 

Now that you’ve spent some time considering finances, you may be wondering how you can afford to pay your employees.

If you want to save money on operating costs and still have good drivers, you may want to consider using subcontracted truck drivers.

These truck drivers are hired per contract for specific jobs, they’ll only work when you need them to.

This can be the ideal set up for people that are interested in running a trucking business but want to start their company with less capital.

Data and software are your best friends

When people think about running a trucking business they usually don’t think about software.  But the right kind of software and data collection methods can ensure that you’re running your business in the best way possible.

The right kind of software can make managing finances a breeze.  You’ll have one place where you can keep all of your paid and outstanding invoices, employee payment information, account balances, and more.

Collecting data from trips is equally important.

Find out how often drivers are stopping to fill up, and how much fuel costs them in each state.  See which routes are the most efficient and which ones seem to take more time.

Having all of this data on hand could help you find more efficient routes for your drivers or could help save you money on fuel.

Perform maintenance frequently 

Remember how we mentioned that some companies will perform routine maintenance on every truck after it gets back from a delivery?

That may seem like too much, but it helps ensure that all fleet vehicles are in top running shape.

When you’re running a trucking business, it’s important to keep in mind how much wear and tear can occur on a running big rig.

Some of these truck drivers are running their vehicles non-stop for hours at a time while they travel across the country. Even trucking businesses that stay local can put some serious miles on their rigs.

If certain issues go unnoticed for too long, your rigs can get seriously damaged.

A loose belt or low oil may go unnoticed in a regular car for a few weeks or even months depending on how much it’s driven. All it takes is one long trip for damage to become apparent in a big rig.

Aside from having professionals routinely handle truck upkeep, it can be helpful to train your truck drivers in simple maintenance. Their dashboard can only tell them so much about the state of their vehicle.

Always put safety first 

Overall, it’s important to make sure that your trucking company and your drivers are compliant with all safety standards set by the American Trucking Association and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association.

There are rules about hauling certain kinds of materials, equipment usage, and nearly every aspect of trucking you can think of.

The trucking industry on average produces 5,360 fatalities and 142,000 injuries each year. When you’re running a trucking business safety should be your number one priority above all else.

Highway and driver safety clearly is a priority. Your truck drivers need to observe safe driving practices when they’re on the road. Drivers that constantly take shortcuts, speed, or drive aggressively shouldn’t be a part of your company.

Driver safety is only a small part of the issue. There are other hazards associated with trucking people can forget about.

Unsafe loading and unloading practices have the potential to harm employees or damage products. Drivers should also be thoroughly trained on hauling hazardous materials if you choose to go into that industry niche.

Find good clients 

The key to running a trucking business is to have a lot of clients you can rely on.

Some owners lull themselves into a state of false security once they land their first big contract. But it’s important to remember that the 6 or 7 figure contract you have today may not be there tomorrow.

Even if you have an excellent client you think will be with you for decades, you still need a solid business development plan to ensure that you’re bringing in new work.

If you can’t devote yourself to finding new clients you need to hire someone that can handle sales. Look for someone that specializes in the trucking industry and may already have some connections.

Bring on good talent 

Running a trucking business will be hard if your drivers have a reputation for being late or rude to clients.

Your truckers are going to represent your business on each trip, and you want to make sure you hire people that are up for the task.

There’s nothing wrong with hiring people that are new to the industry, but you may want a seasoned vet or two on your team in the beginning.

They’ll know the ins and outs of the industry, and they could even serve as a mentor for newer drivers.

Don’t risk bringing on someone with a bad driving history. They may have their CDL, but you should look into their personal background.

If they have speeding tickets, road rage incidents, or any charges involving drugs or alcohol, they probably won’t be good for your business.

Wrapping up

As you can see, running a trucking business requires a lot of work. You’ll need a good mix of reliable employees, the right equipment, and a mind for business if you want to succeed.

Do any seasoned trucking business owners have advice for people new to the industry? Tell us about it in our comments section!

If you have questions about trucking services, contact us so we can answer them.

 

An Update On Trucking And Military Truck Drivers

There’s been a lot of movement lately where military truck drivers are concerned. It appears the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is setting out to clarify and seek comment on several new proposals related to military truck drivers transitioning into the civilian trucking industry.

First up, the FMCSA is looking to launch an interstate pilot program designed for military-trained truck drivers who happen to be under 21 years of age. Proposed in mid-August, the FAST Act-stipulated program would clear the way for truckers under 21 to operate their vehicles across state lines provided they have prior experience operating large vehicles in the military.

Under-21 Pilot Program for Military Truck Drivers

The current rule only allows for under-21 CDL holders to drive intrastate. Now open for public comment, the agency wants to know what you think about this proposed change. Of course, there are other details to consider.

As part of the proposal, the FMCSA mandates that any under-21 truck drivers in the pilot program must be sponsored by a motor carrier. The same motor carrier must also have an over-21 truck driver with similar training and experience operating as part of a control group.

At the end of the three-year pilot, the FMCSA will then look at the safety records of both groups. If it appears that there are safety issues in the under-21 group, it might be determined that age does represent a critical safety factor.

Motor carriers participating in the pilot program must have an electronic logging device installed in all the vehicles used by either the pilot or the control group. The FMCSA is also considering requiring carriers to install onboard monitoring systems, but hasn’t finalized that yet.

CDL Waiver for Military Truck Drivers

The second dive into military truck drivers and transitioning into the civilian workforce surrounds the CDL test. Currently, states can waive the general knowledge test needed to obtain a CDL if the person taking the test has either current or former military experience.

On October 27, the FMCSA issued a two-year exemption to that rule. The exemption essentially allows military truck drivers to list their time operating a military vehicle as training credit. The FMCSA acknowledged the many hours of classroom and practical skills training military truck drivers undergo every day.

The new exemption still leaves the power in states’ hands, however. State driver licensing agencies will be able to choose whether to waive the knowledge test. States will also be given assistance in setting up programs to verify the eligibility of applicant participants.

There are also requirements surrounding who can apply for the extension:

  • Current or former military members
  • National Guard
  • Reservists
  • Have been regularly employed within a year of the application
  • Have received formal military training related to the duty being applied for

This rule is yet another rule designed to help military personnel ease into civilian life and get jobs within the trucking industry.

The FMCSA has also given military personnel who drove large commercial vehicles a full year to apply for a skills test waiver. This is an increase over the prior rules 90 days.

The new rule also allows states to accept applications from active-duty military members provided they are stationed in that state. States will also be allowed to administer a learner’s or CDL written and skills test, and then electronically transfer the results to either the applicant or the licensing board, if the state so wishes.

Overall, these changes represent positive moves from the FMCSA, designed to make it easier for the hard-working men and women of our nation’s armed forces to get secure, rewarding jobs with motor carriers and build their trucking careers. That certainly can never be a bad thing.

What Are Trucking Industry Employers Looking For?

You’ve heard plenty about the truck driver shortage. And yes, it is still ongoing. This means that there are jobs out there for anyone looking for a fun, sable and potentially lucrative career in trucking. But do you know what to look for?

As a professional truck driver, you would be the face of your company. This means that trucking companies are going to look for someone who fits with their company’s image when they are hiring. They also look for candidates who are qualified based on specific federal regulations and trucking company policies.

What Are the Regulations?

Specifically, Parts 383 and 391 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) specifically address truck driver qualification and disqualification.  According to section 391.11 of the FMCSRs, you must pass a physical exam, be in possession of a valid commercial driver’s license (CDL) and be able to pass a road test.

The fleet that hires you will be required to maintain a driver qualification file on you. The regulations surrounding how the file is to be maintained, from drivers’ logs to drug and alcohol testing, can be found in section 391.51 of the FMCSRs.

Once you become a CDL holder, certain offenses can disqualify you from operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), whether they are committed in the CMV itself or in a passenger vehicle. They could include anything from reckless driving to drug and alcohol offenses.

What Are the Job Qualifications?

When a fleet recruiter is looking for a truck driver, they aren’t looking for just anyone. There is a certain amount of responsibility that comes with operating a Class 8 big rig.

When a recruiter is looking for someone, they generally look for the following:

  • A general knowledge of the types of vehicles used in the trucking industry;
  • A basic understanding of different vehicle systems and components;
  • A cursory understanding of the paperwork and regulatory requirements required in trucking;
  • The ability to safely operate a CMV;
  • A basic understanding of how to handle cargo, and;
  • A basic understanding of the techniques and skills associated with operating a CMV.

Though not as critical, but just as important, an employer is looking for someone who has a positive attitude and shows an active interest in the job. They want someone who is mature, enthusiastic and not quick to shoot from the hip. After all, safety is about more than just CSA scores.

What is the Company Policy?

All motor carriers operate under federal and state regulation, but they also have their own specific company policies that operators must follow. Some of these policies may vary from carrier to carrier, but always remember that you must operate your vehicle both safely and legally.

It is illegal for an employer to compel you to operate in such a way that would violate federal, state or local laws or regulations.

When considering what to look for in a trucking company policy, keep the following things in mind:

  • Work hours;
  • Pay;
  • Benefits;
  • Safety rules;
  • Inspection and maintenance requirements;
  • Road trip rules, and;
  • Customer relations.

Can I Advance?

There are always opportunities for advancement in the trucking industry. Experience plays a big part in the hiring process, but as you put in both time and a safe driving record, opportunities make themselves apparent.

Completing a full truck driver education program is the first step in reaching your truck driving career goals. Many an experienced truck driver will tell you their first job was in the yard and not in the cab. Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom as you work your way to the top.

Always be the first to put your best foot forward, show enthusiasm and strive to do a good job, and a career in trucking may be just what you’re looking for.

A Primer on the Commercial Driver’s License – Part II

Last year we took an initial look at what it takes to get your commercial driver’s license (CDL). In this installment we are going to dig a little deeper into certain aspects of the process. There’s a lot to know, so we want to help make sure you are well prepared.

Let’s dive right in.

The Commercial Learner’s Permit

Before you can obtain your CDL, you have to get a commercial learner’s permit (CLP). Your CLP will be issued to you by the state, just as your CDL will be.

When you are doing behind-the-wheel training, the CLP is as good as a CDL. You are clear to drive on public roads and highways with it.

You may also be required to take and pass other written tests if you plan on adding an endorsement to your CDL.

Additional requirements may include:

  • Certifying you are not subject to any disqualifying factors;
  • Providing proof of citizenship;
  • Completing the CDL/med card merger.

When a CLP holder is operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) they must be with a holder of a valid CDL at all times. Keep in mind that if you are getting an endorsement (tank, for instance), the CDL driver who accompanies your drive must hold the same endorsement.

The CDL holder must sit in the front passenger seat next to the truck driver and must directly supervise the CLP holder as they go about the business of driving the CMV.

A CLP is valid for 180 days, but can be renewed for another 180 days if it expires. A CLP holder is not eligible to go for his or her CDL test within the first 14 days of the issuing of the CLP. They want to make sure you know what you’re doing, after all!

CDL Classes

In order get your actual CDL, you will need to pass a driving or skills test. Your driving test will be in the vehicle you intend to operate. So if you want to run tractor-trailers that require a Class A CDL, you will need to be completing your skills training in a tractor-trailer.

Much like when you obtained your CLP, there will be various forms of paperwork and documentation you will have to provide in order to get your CDL. Consult your state’s CDL manual to find out what is required from your state’s licensing agency.

Federal regulations outline three distinct vehicles groups for the purposes of a CDL license. These groupings are referred to as Classes. For more details, they are covered under Sec. 383.91 of the FMCSRs.

They are as follows:

  • Class A – Combination Vehicle: Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight exceeds 26,001 pounds or more, provided the vehicle – or combination thereof – is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Class B – Heavy Straight Vehicle: Any single vehicle with has a gross combination weight rating in excess of 26,001 pounds, or any such vehicle towing another vehicle that itself is not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Class C – Small Vehicle: Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not meet the requirements for either Class A or B, but is designed to transport 16 or more passengers or is used in the transportation of hazardous materials.

Endorsements

If you are intending on driving a CMV that necessitates an endorsement on your CDL, you will have to take additional tests and meet skill requirements.

If you plan on operating any of the following, you will need a special endorsement on your CDL:

  • Double or triple trailers (T);
  • Tank (N);
  • Hazardous material (X);
  • School bus (S);
  • Passenger(s) (P).

For the first three endorsements, you are required to take a written test. For the last two, you will be required to take a written and road/skills test in addition to the written test.

Are you looking to become a truck driver and are just now learning about getting your CDL? Join us next week when we did deeper into driver qualifications and what they should mean to you.

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