The top two critical violations relate to hours-of-service (HOS) compliance.  -  Photo: Work Truck

The top two critical violations relate to hours-of-service (HOS) compliance.

Photo: Work Truck

The top violations cited during motor carrier audits are more than trivia for the curious. They are a snapshot that help understand where many motor carriers are struggling in compliance.

Each year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides a list of the top acute and critical violations discovered during agency investigations.  

Acute vs. Critical Regulations

An acute regulation is considered a serious violation, and non-compliance with a single violation is so severe that it requires immediate corrective actions by a motor carrier.

A critical regulation is identified as one where non-compliance relates to a breakdown in a carrier’s management controls. A violation is demonstrated by a pattern of non-compliance, which is more than one violation. A pattern is established when at least ten percent of documents examined result in a violation. 

Top Acute Violations

In 2020, the top five acute violations were:

  • §383.37(a), allowing a driver to operate with suspended or revoked commercial driver’s license (CDL).
  • §382.115(a), failing to implement an alcohol and/or drug testing program.
  • §382.305, failing to implement random controlled substance or alcohol testing program.
  • §383.37(b), allowing driver with more than one CDL to drive a commercial motor vehicle (CMV).
  • §382.305, failing to randomly test for drugs and/or alcohol.

What do these violations tell us? Motor carriers are failing to check or ignoring the status of a driver’s CDL. And many carriers are discounting the need to set up an FMCSA testing program or routinely select drivers for random testing. 

Top Critical Violations 

Top critical violations in 2020 include:

  • §395.8(a)(1), not using the appropriate method to record hours of service.
  • §395.8(e)(1), false report of driver’s record of duty status.
  • §391.51(b)(2), inquiries into employment record are not kept in the driver qualification file.
  • §396.17(a), using a CMV not periodically inspected.
  • §382.301(a), using a driver before receiving a pre-employment result.

The top two critical violations relate to hours-of-service (HOS) compliance. Specifically, several carriers were not using a compliant electronic logging device when required, and drivers’ logs (at least 10% of those audited) did not match supporting documents, indicating the driver was not truthful about HOS limits. 

The third and fifth slots show issues with new-hire requirements. Whether missed due to a need to get the driver behind the wheel quickly or just disregarding the regulations, these critical violations show a pattern (not a one-time occurrence) of using a driver who was not yet fully qualified. 

The fourth most common violation reveals that CMVs were not inspected annually. To ensure a CMV is safe to operate, components must be compared against the Minimum periodic inspection standards in Appendix G.

Handling Violations During a DOT Audit

As an FMCSA investigator goes through a motor carrier’s records, the carrier representative must always be honest when asked questions and/or provide a document, no matter how incriminating. Attempts to hide a violation through omission or alteration will not bode well. 

When there is a past violation — that has since been corrected — the carrier should show documentation of its good faith effort to comply going forward. This may involve creating a note explaining the root cause. For instance, was it the result of poor training, unenforced policies, a lack of communication, unassigned roles, or a failure to monitor compliance?

The FMCSA will want to see continuous improvement in the problem area(s). If you can show that you applied a safety management control and then monitored and tracked it to ensure it corrected the problem, your actions will assist you during an audit and may reduce fines. 

About the Author: Kathy Close is a transportation editor at J.J. Keller & Associates, Inc. Her areas of expertise include transportation security, DOT drug and alcohol testing, and driver qualification. Contact for more information. 

Kathy Close

Kathy Close

Transportation Editor, J.J. Keller

Kathy Close is a transportation editor at J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.