MT. LAUREL, NJ - Last year served as a warning for fleets with large trucks to get ready for the significant compliance changes taking place in 2012 as mandated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010). In 2011, the changes came in the form of warning letters and investigations into safety standards, but fleets can expect increased pressures in 2012 as enforcement actions ramp up considerably.

Remember, compliance is a requirement, not a choice; the program was designed to reduce the number of accidents, injuries and fatalities for these larger vehicles. With all of the changes coming to fruition this coming year, it is all the more important for businesses to search for time-efficient and cost-effective ways to maintain compliance and ensure safety.

Ramping up Enforcement

In 2011, the FMCSA began conducting interventions by targeting fleets in violation of the renamed Compliance, Safety and Accountability (CSA). This surge signaled a significant shift from the FMCSA's intervention tactics under the former SafeStat monitoring system.  In March, an initial batch of 23,000 Compliance, Safety and Accountability warning letters were sent to fleets across the country[1]. In total, about 8 percent of U.S. carriers received intervention warning letters in the past year. That's four times the number distributed in 2010. A fleet's failure to address the deficiencies outlined in these warning letters will lead to deep investigations of their safety and compliance practices.

Fleets should expect additional warning letters to be sent in 2012 as the FMCSA's compliance, safety and accountability budget is expected to skyrocket. In 2010, the FMCSA spent $9.5 million on compliance, safety and accountability and generated over $37 million in audit fines. In 2011, the FMCSA requested a budget of $14.3 million. The requested budget for 2012 is $78 million. The monumental budget jump has consequently led to a swell in the number of staff dedicated to the program.  In 2009, only five full-time employees worked on the program. That number is expected to rise to 696 full-time employees in 2012. 

To respond to compliance and safety demands, fleets must be vigilant in instituting internal programs aimed at safety and continually monitoring compliance requirements. But it doesn't have to be difficult - there are three key steps fleets should be taking to avoid disciplinary actions:

1)      Get Educated

CSA 2010 will enter its third full year of existence in 2012, but its full effects are still being realized.  While businesses should already understand the basics, it's critical that fleet managers and decision makers remain informed of new changes and requirements. Checking the FMCSA website for updated information is an easy way to stay up-to-date. But it's an insufficient standalone source.  Fleet managers need to lean on industry experts who are attuned to the most recent compliance issues and changes.

2)      Get the Word Out

Implementing compliance and safety policies starts at the top, but requires the full cooperation of every fleet employee. Managers are responsible for overseeing and instituting safety procedures, but drivers are ultimately responsible for using safe driving practices. In the coming year, as pressures on fleet leaders increase, securing buy-in from team members can alleviate the burden. This requires a clearly established and focused fleet policy. Every facet of fleet operations should be covered, from vehicle selection and safety to preventative maintenance and accidents. 

3)      Get Technical

CSA 2010 leaves no room for error in meeting compliance mandates for fleets with large trucks in the coming year. Firms must establish stronger driver policies and enforcement.  While this will come at an initial cost, fleets can search for solutions that offer long-term ROI.  Fleets should consider technology as a way to streamline current processes, cut costs over the long haul and eliminate the stacks of paper that can prevent fleet managers from focusing on compliance goals.

On Board Telematics & Recording Devices - Through telematics, fleets can monitor compliance with over the road regulations more effectively. Electronic trip logs eliminate the need for clumsy paper logs often plagued by inaccuracy. GPS can aid in the tracking of vehicles on roadways and also help identify hard braking and other safety related violations.

Pre and Post Daily Inspections - In cab devices offer an easier way for drivers to file Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR). These devices can be programmed to provide each driver with a pass/fail option for evaluating their vehicle or a DVIR checklist. These devices can also be portable, giving drivers the ability to do a full walk-around inspection. If these devices prove too costly, fleets can explore web-based DVIR forms that are accessible on smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices. This gives drivers flexibility in when and how they file reports.

Integration Plan - These individual steps are less valuable without a fully integrated system in place. Driver logs, GPS information and electronic DVIRs must all feed back to the truck maintenance process. An integrated system will help ensure timely repairs and keep trucks up and running in a compliant and safe manner. Additionally, Hours of Service (HOS) reports should also be submitted electronically and integrated into vehicle and driver management portals. This allows fleet managers to focus on the job of managing compliance instead of asking drivers to submit paper logs.

For fleets with large vehicles, 2012 will most likely mark a turning point. As enforcement rates from the FMCSA rise, so will the pressures on fleets. But exploring new approaches to compliance and safety can ease stress. Education, comprehensive fleet policies and technology all have an important role to play.



By Craig Neuber - Strategic Consulting Director, Automotive Resources International (ARI)