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

Kathy Close

Transportation Editor, J.J. Keller

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

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