While trucking companies cannot completely eliminate the exposure created when an employee or subcontractor operates a company-owned or personal vehicle, there are specific steps they can take to mitigate it. Some fleets may be under the impression that it is either costly or cumbersome to ensure they are hiring the right people, but the fact is, it is far easier than most firms think.
Most fleets should already have, as a preliminary matter, a driver policy in place. This could be a formal or informal document. They must dictate the criteria they will use to assess whether an applicant represents too much risk to the organization. These standards should include everything from minimum age, valid licensing or endorsements, and certain thresholds for moving violations or accidents that appear over time.
Fleets must carefully review their operator safety policies and make every effort to ensure they are not just encoded into writing but are both implemented and enforced. Companies that operate commercial motor vehicles are subjected to requirements and regulatory standards according to FMCSA requirements. Without follow-through, they may find themselves at the wrong end of an investigation.
Companies need to carefully review their truck driver safety policies and then, more importantly, ensure they are properly enforced. Over the passage of time it can be tempting to turn a blind eye to policies you have so carefully put into place just for the sake of adding people to the payroll. Remember, these are standards you have carefully developed. They are designed to protect your company from potential litigation, or worse.
What it all boils down to is understanding whether you are better off not knowing about a truck driver’s driving history. The answer should always be a resounding “no.” The risks of not knowing far outweigh any downsides. Ignoring well-written and enforceable standards which resulted in unsafe operation of a vehicle can be just as bad as if the company did not have standards employed to begin with.
Automating the Process
One of the best ways to ensure you hire and retain the right people is to automate the process. Once a company’s standards have been set up, they must be enforced. Finding ways to introduce machine learning or automation into the monitoring process will avoid inconsistent enforcement resulting from human error. We have discussed before how manual processes are subject to human error.
The point here is not that individuals who fail to meet a particular standard for a safety policy should not be directly terminated or reassigned. It really depends on the extent and nature of the truck driver’s employment status. Truck driver qualification standards should be much more robust in situations where there are driving restrictions, safety training, or otherwise. This could stand for hazardous materials carriers, bus drivers, cabs, or other types of company travel.
The company must consistently audit their truck drivers to ensure they remain qualified to operate the vehicles for the company. Has their driver’s license been revoked? Are you even checking to see if it has? Has the operator had any moving violations or accidents that may disqualify him or her from operating your equipment?
Running a new MVR, at least on an annual level, should involve the following:
- Still has a valid driver’s license
- Is still medically qualified
- Has no disqualifying violations or accidents since the previous annual MVR review
Don’t be an ostrich with your head in the sand if one of your truck drivers is involved in a catastrophic accident and you are unprepared for the fallout. If it comes to light that the company took no action beyond simple qualifying factors to ensure the truck driver remained properly licensed and able to operate the vehicle, the worse could happen.
There are specific C.F.R.’s that relate directly to an employer not allowing someone to drive or operate a commercial motor vehicle if it knows or reasonably should know that the truck driver’s CDL has been downgraded. If a state agency is notified and they cite the company under the regulation, it can be shown the company had the ability to view the updated MVR.
While there are certainly counter arguments, one being that current safety regulations do not require trucking companies to continuously monitor a truck driver’s most current MVR. Still, if a company were to choose a solution that allows them to continuously monitor the MVR, they might not find themselves in this position to begin with.
Utilizing motor vehicle records the way they should be used, to shed light on the risk profile for a truck driver, whether new or experienced, is not new or wrong. It is something every motor carrier with a focus on safety should be taking a good hard look at.
Using Technology to Your Advantage
Technological advances and the emergence of advanced truck driver-monitoring systems have set the stage for companies to have near real-time visibility into whether their truck drivers are fully complying with the system they have put into place. Presenting a cost-effective and automated way to mitigate risk through technology is one of the best ways to keep plaintiffs attorneys at bay.
Here’s how this could work. An MVR is an important tool to assess a truck driver’s history, except the problem is the MVR becomes outdated the minute after it is pulled. Let’s say the truck drivers license is impacted within a few days of the MVR being pulled. Either the truck driver would have to report it, or the company would have to wait until the next annual MVR review to uncover it. Waiting that long could cause a problem if there is an incident on the road.
Driver-monitoring services can provide fleets with real-tie data from federal and state agencies that can be transmitted directly into fleet databases. Action can be taken immediately, rather than waiting for a potential accident that could cripple the company. Whether it be a license suspension, downgrade, accident, downgrade or otherwise, getting this information in real-time offers fleets a much better way to manage risk and ensure positive safety outcomes.
Integrated driver-monitoring systems also offer information related to medical cards and CSA notifications. These types of integrations give fleets a faster mechanism to accessing information that is critical to their business. The FMCSA has also come out with new guidance contemplating allowing a motor carrier’s use of an MVR-monitoring system to satisfy its obligations to renew the MVR. Of course, other conditions will have to be met, but the guidance – specifically part 383, does offer this specific information:
QUESTION 4: Does the use of an employer notification system that provides motor carriers with a department of motor vehicle report for every State in which the driver held either an operator’s license, a commercial driver’s license (CDL), or permit when a driver is enrolled in the system and provides information about license status, crashes and convictions of laws or regulations governing the operation of motor vehicles on the driving record satisfy the requirement for an annual review of each driver’s record?
GUIDANCE: Yes. Since motor carriers would be provided with a department of motor vehicle report for every State in which the driver held a commercial motor vehicle operator’s license or permit when a driver is enrolled in the system and the State licensing agency includes information about crashes and convictions of laws or regulations governing the operation of motor vehicles on the driving record, the requirements of § 391.25(a) would be satisfied. Generally, the requirements of § 391.25(b) and (c) would be satisfied if the employer notification system records the identity of the motor carrier’s representative who conducted the review when the carrier’s representative reviews the information on the driving record.
The fact of the matter remains: whether a company is subject to federal or state safety regulations, they must ensure that they consistently apply their truck driver qualification standards across the board. There can be no gap or lapse in judgment.
Even more, fleets should be actively utilizing whatever technological means at their disposal to ensure compliance. If there are services out there that allow for real-time monitoring of a truck driver’s MVR, how could that hurt? We live in a time where some find in-cab cameras intrusive. While that is a safety discussion for another day, there is nothing intrusive about knowing what is going on with your truck drivers’ driving record.