An unfavorable compliance review (CR) can result in a public relations nightmare, high insurance rates, and difficulty in attracting quality drivers. But all hope is not lost for those earning a poor safety rating. Motor carriers have an opportunity to ask for a do-over.

Safety Rating Process

During a CR, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) scores a motor carrier’s compliance using a safety fitness standard. The agency looks at noncompliance with the regulations and the carrier’s overall safety management processes. 

Following a CR, the FMCSA provides the motor carrier with:

  • A list of deficiencies discovered during the audit (with the expectation that the carrier will take corrective actions); and
  • A safety rating based on the safety fitness model.

The FMCSA assigns the motor carrier one of three possible ratings:

 -  Source: JJ Keller

Source: JJ Keller

Second Chances

If a motor carrier receives a conditional or unsatisfactory rating, it may request a rating change at any time. The FMCSA would expect to see a safety management plan to address the violations discovered during the CR. 

Based on the contents of the plan, the FMCSA may issue an improved safety rating. 

What is a Safety Management Plan?

There is no such thing as an “off-the-shelf” safety management plan. The needs of each carrier will be different, and plans vary depending on:

  • Reasons leading to the rating, 
  • Steps taken to correct the issues, and 
  • How far the carrier is into the process.

A safety plan should include:

  • Steps taken to identify the deficiencies;
  • Mechanisms put in place to correct shortcomings and stop the violations from recurring (e.g., policies and procedures, assigned roles and responsibilities, improved auditing, etc.);
  • Company training or use of outside experts to assist in training; and
  • A statement, accompanied by documentation, showing that a deficiency has been corrected.

Examples of documentation include:

  • An internal or external audit verifying that the violations are no longer occurring; and/or
  • Roadside inspection reports showing no violations in the area in question.

FMCSA’s Decision

The FMCSA provides its decision within 30 to 45 days of receiving a request for a rating change. The safety rating is upgraded if the FMCSA believes the carrier meets its safety standard due to corrective actions or remains in place if the carrier does not demonstrate problems have been corrected.

When a carrier is denied an upgraded safety rating, it can continue to make documented improvements to its safety program to ask for yet another review of its safety rating.

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. For more information e-mail

Kathy Close

Kathy Close

Transportation Editor, J.J. Keller

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