Jul 10, 2023

FMCSA On-Site Audits Surge Back in 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on various trends, including an upsurge in off-site safety audits. Even before social distancing measures were implemented, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recognized the potential advantages of off-site investigations over traditional on-site auditing in terms of time and cost efficiency.

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As per industry experts at J. J. Keller & Associates Inc., the FMCSA's off-site audits had expanded by a striking 300% between 2018 and 2019 based on the merits of this approach.

This alerted commercial motor vehicle freight brokers, autonomous truck operators, and the general logistics industry since freight demands will surely be impacted by it. Driver shortage could be one of the results of this process. 

In the wake of the pandemic, the need to comply with social distancing norms has further accentuated the importance of conducting safety audits remotely by enforcement officers. Instead of auditors traveling for on-site assessments, transportation entities have been urged to submit documents electronically to facilitate off-site investigations. This is all in line with compliance reviews. 

This approach has enabled the FMCSA to maintain a robust auditing strategy while also prioritizing the safety of all stakeholders. 

In 2022, there was a return to in-person investigations, with the total number of on-site audits increasing by 54% from 2021, as J. J. Keller reported in a recap. The FMCSA walked back its off-site audit focus by 31% for a total of 3,400 audits.

Out of the 12,500 total investigations, there were 3,600 on-site comprehensive reviews (an increase of 54%) and 5,400 on-site focused reviews (an increase of 7%). All these data are accurate based on each acting administrator who did the analysis, research, and come assessments. 

Why is the FMCSA conducting more on-site audits?

The relaxation of social distancing measures is anticipated to contribute to the resurgence of on-site audits in 2022. However, it is important to acknowledge that preventable motor vehicle accidents have resulted in over 46,000 fatalities in direct interaction for the second consecutive year, as estimated by the National Safety Council. The safety rating is still a standard. 

According to the same report, the mileage death rate in 2022 has surged by approximately 22% when compared to the pre-pandemic year of 2019. Despite the abundance of cutting-edge safety technology in tractors today, crashes continue to persist, according to Joshua Lovan, Industry Business Adviser at J. J. Keller.

The conduct of on-site audits presents the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) with a unique opportunity to meticulously evaluate a carrier's safety practices.

As elucidated by Daren Hansen, senior editor for DOT transportation at J. J. Keller, offsite audits or remote audits essentially entail the examination of documents submitted to the auditor, which are comparatively less rigorous than on-site investigations.

During on-site audits of motor carriers, the auditor together with head of enforcement and other enforcement partners enjoy greater autonomy to:

1. Conduct interviews

2. Examine motor vehicle subjects, motor carrier safety performance, and motor carrier financial performance

3. Solicit documents, and steer the audit in novel directions

4. Check the Journal of operations management and Journal of Business Logistics firsthand

5. Emergency Declarations

6. Current Relationship between motor carrier partners

7. Check current freight rates in detail

8. Compliance with weight restrictions or combined weight limit of active heavy-duty trucks etc.

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Fines Are on the Rise

As per the 2022 Report on Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry by the American Transportation Research Institute, Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) scores have been recognized as the eighth most significant concern for motor carriers. In the event of high percentile rankings, indicating unsafe driving behavior or noncompliance in CSA Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICS), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) may initiate an audit.

Such an audit could result in the discovery of violations, further contributing to higher scores and accompanying fines, that have become increasingly expensive. The FMCSA, in the previous year, collected $25.7 million, marking a considerable increase of 40% from 2021 and an average settlement payment of $7,100.

The most substantial penalties imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in 2022 are as follows:

  • $91,620 for infringing upon Hours of Service regulations

  • $88,450 for falsifying logs

  • $75,080 for violations related to drug/alcohol testing and vehicle maintenance


Preparing for an FMCSA Audit

1. Conducting a self-audit is a highly recommended practice for carriers seeking to identify any gaps in their safety program. In cases where bandwidth or industry knowledge is limited, partnering with a third-party provider such as J. J. Keller can prove to be an optimal solution.

2. To ensure compliance and pass both off-site and on-site audits, it is crucial for carriers to focus on maintaining digital records. Electronic recordkeeping offers a streamlined approach to maintaining organizational efficiency and identifying potential issues.

3. Critical areas such as driver qualification files, drug/alcohol testing, HOS, and inspection/maintenance files should be thoroughly evaluated. These categories are commonly associated with violations, and it is essential to address any gaps in these areas to maintain a high level of safety and compliance.

Closing Thoughts Regarding the FMCSA and the Trucking Industry

Prior to incurring steep expenses resulting from an audit, it is advisable to conduct simulated inspections and DOT audits to evaluate your business's compliance. Educating drivers and management on the audit's focal points and implementing remedial measures for non-compliance issues reinforces the importance of adhering to regulations, which fosters safety practices and averts accidents.

J. J. Keller suggests employing the Safety Management Cycle (SMC), FMCSA's six-step methodology for handling safety and compliance concerns. This entails addressing the following areas in sequential order:

1. Establishing comprehensive policies and procedures, defining clear roles and responsibilities

2. Implementing effective qualification and hiring processes

3. Providing thorough training and fostering open communication channels are all crucial components of a successful business operation.

4. Monitoring and tracking performance metrics

5. Meaningfi; action based on the outcomes, is essential in maintaining a high level of operational excellence.

5. Additionally, partnering with a reputable third-party auditing firm specialized in the relevant field for conducting mock audits can reveal any gaps or deficiencies in the existing processes and provide valuable insights for improvement.

If you need further support for any DOT and FMCSA compliance, feel free to reach out to us at Labworks USA.

If you are looking for more information about drug and alcohol testing as a truck driver, visit LabWorks USA. Our DOT Consortium's friendly team will be more than happy to discuss any concerns you may have and work with you to ensure you are always fully compliant specially with random DOT drug and alcohol testing pre-employment testing. Moreover, if you need help with FMCSA Clearinghouse registration, we can further support you.