July 27, 2023

What to know about FMCSA safety ratings

How to keep in good standing and lower adverse rating.

Compliance reviews by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration are not something motor carriers should take lightly. The rating that you receive based on your safety compliance can greatly impact your business both positively and negatively.

John Seidl, Reliance Partners’ VP of risk services, joined Dooner during Monday’s WHAT THE TRUCK?!? episode to break down what motor carriers need to know about FMCSA safety ratings.

The first thing to know is there are four possible ratings after a compliance review: unsatisfactory, conditional, satisfactory or unrated. Because FMCSA ratings are publicly available, receiving a satisfactory rating — or no rating — is important to keep in good standing with shippers and access good freight. Conditional and unsatisfactory ratings, however, can hurt a business’ reputation.

“Conditional, you can keep operating, but if it’s unsatisfactory, you need to get it upgraded or you will be out of business,” Seidl advised. 

There are a few ways you might catch the attention of the FMCSA, Seidl said:

  1. You have a high Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) score. Keeping your CSA scores in good standing is vital to avoiding a compliance review. 
  2. Your company is involved in a high-profile crash.
  3. A complaint is filed against your business.

Your rating is influenced by whether the FMCSA finds acute and critical violations. Acute violations are so serious that receiving just one could cause your business to receive a conditional or unsatisfactory rating. Critical violations are caused by a pattern of noncompliance in key areas. If violations are discovered in 10% of records checked, it is considered critical.

“Internally, do a little mock review. Make sure you don’t have any acute or critical violations and you’ll pass the review,” Seidl said.

If you find yourself with an acute or critical violation, the FMCSA posts results to the public in 45 days for hazmat carriers and 60 days for non-hazmat carriers.

By implementing a corrective action plan, you have an opportunity to potentially improve your rating. In doing so, you put yourself in a better place.

“You have to demonstrate how you fixed all those acute and critical violations. If you have a high accident factor, out-of-service rate, same thing,” Seidl said.

Previously, to submit a corrective action plan, a company would need to gather proof to show that it had fixed the issues and mail one packet to the state and one to the carrier’s service center, Seidl said. Now it must be submitted electronically.

Traditionally, some states have responded more quickly than others to corrective action plan requests. Seidel said that electronic submission has significantly changed this. 

Now states don’t necessarily handle their own requests; requests go into a first-come, first-served queue, which levels the playing field in terms of which state the request is coming from. Seidl also noted that those with unconditional ratings will go to the top of the queue to be addressed first.

Reliance Partners is a Tennessee-based freight insurance agency that can help provide carriers with expertise and resources to improve their safety programs.

Click here to learn more about Reliance Partners.