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What is the Safety Fitness Determination Rule?

We’ve promised continued reporting on new rules and regulations that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to release this year. Last week we reported on the speed limiter mandate. This week we pivot to the safety determination rule which is tentatively scheduled for June publication.

While a speed limiter mandate is a bit easier to decipher, what exactly does the safety fitness determination rule mean for trucking? Let’s dig deeper.

The History

The FMCSA has been talking about the safety fitness determination rule for years. Original language governs how the DOT will identify “chameleon” carriers.

A “chameleon carrier” is essentially an entity that attempts to avoid identification enforcement by registering under a different identity. The intended effect is to create an administrative process that will make it more difficult for companies with repeated safety violations to reincarnate into a new business. These rules will also be enforced for owner-operators.

 

The rule will be governed by the FMCSA’s Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program and will be implemented in three phases:

  1. Carrier Safety Management System (CSMS)
  2. Driver Safety Management System (DSMS)
  3. Safety Fitness Determination (SFD)

The CSMS and DSMS have been in place for quite a while now, with new technologies allowing carriers and federal agencies to start addressing system needs. The final step in the process is implementation of the SFD.

The Details

The SFD rule currently being prepared for publication is designed to use truck roadside inspection data combined with data from DOT auditor investigations to determine a carrier’s operational fitness. Once the data is plugged in, a score will be assigned and the SFD will have been made.

According to early indications, the SFD will land in one of three predetermined categories:

  1. Continue to operate
  2. Marginal
  3. Unfit

A carrier’s Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) score will also factor in to the methodology used in determining the SFD. The SFD would classify BASICs as “stand alone” and “non-stand alone.”

Examples of stand alone violations would include unsafe or fatigued driving. Examples of non-stand alone violations would be driver fitness, cargo related, or controlled substances or alcohol.

Much of the final determination will be driven by a carrier’s failed BASICS, both which ones and how many. What the exact methodology will be must wait until the rule’s final publication.

Fortunately the FMCSA published a format in 2009 that outlined what their initial methodology would be in weighing BASICs data with auditor data in the SFD. While it’s likely this methodology will have been changed over the past six years, perhaps we can glean a little out of what they have said.

  • If one stand alone basic equals or exceeds the failure threshold, an unfit determination would be assigned.
  • If one non-stand alone basic equals or exceeds the failure threshold, a marginal fitness determination would be assigned
  • If more than one non-stand alone basic equals or exceeds the failure threshold, an unfit fitness determination would be assigned.
  • If one or more fundamental violations are discovered in an audit, an unfit fitness determination will be assigned.
  • If all basics are below the failure threshold and there are no fundamental violations, a continue to operate fitness determination will be assigned.

The fundamental violations mentioned are described by the FMCSA as the following:

  1. 382.115(a)/Sec. 382.115(b)–Failing to implement an alcohol and/or controlled substances testing program (domestic and foreign motor carriers, respectively).
  2. 382.211–Using a driver who has refused to submit to an alcohol or controlled substances test required under part 382.
  3. 382.215–Using a driver known to have tested positive for a controlled substance.
  4. 383.37(a)–Knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting, or authorizing an employee with a commercial driver’s license which is suspended, revoked, or canceled by a State or who is disqualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle.
  5. 383.51(a)–Knowingly allowing, requiring, permitting, or authorizing a driver to drive who is disqualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle.
  6. 387.7(a)–Operating a motor vehicle without having in effect the required minimum levels of financial responsibility coverage.
  7. 391.15(a)–Using a disqualified driver.
  8. 391.11(b)(4)–Using a physically unqualified driver.
  9. 395.8(a)–Failing to require a driver to make a record of duty status.
  10. 396.9(c)(2)–Requiring or permitting the operation of a commercial motor vehicle declared “out-of-service” before repairs are made.
  11. 396.17(a)–Using a commercial motor vehicle not periodically inspected.

Managing CSA scores has become an important aspect of successfully operating as a motor carrier. Now that the CSA will be combined with BASICs violations to create the SFD, are today’s carriers ready?

The FMCSA has been promising the final rule for a half-decade. Only time will tell if the new release date of June 17 will see final publication.

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