Fuel Smarts

New Safety Rule: Unsatisfactory Rating Leads to Out-of-Service Order

July 31, 2000

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Federal officials are about to post a rule that will put truckers out of service if they don’t improve an unsatisfactory safety rating.
The rule, which has cleared the White House and is due out from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration possibly this week, says that truckers have 60 days to fix an unsatisfactory rating or be declared unfit and placed out of service. It also says that the federal government, the country’s biggest shipper, may not use “unfit” truckers.

The safety agency is going ahead despite objections from truckers and industry groups, who were concerned that the safety rating process puts more emphasis on recordkeeping than on actual safety performance. Under the process, the agency pulls together information from a variety of sources to rate the trucker as “satisfactory,” “conditional” or “unsatisfactory.”
The agency said it is reviewing the factors that go into making these determinations, and will propose changes at some point in the future. But it does not want to delay this rule, which was ordered by Congress two years ago in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century.
What will be the impact of the rule?
“It will put a lot of people on notice that they’ve got work to do,” said John McQuaid, president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council.
On the other hand, another industry spokesman who has direct experience with the rule predicted little change. Tank truckers have been living with a stricter version of this rule for years – they have 45 days to fix an “unsatisfactory” rating or be hit with an out-of-service order.
Cliff Harvison, president of National Tank Truck Carriers, said he is not aware of any tank line that has been placed out of service by the rule. “No member of this association has ever been impacted by it,” he said.
A company knows well in advance of the official notice that it is going to get an unsatisfactory rating, and has time to make the necessary adjustments, Harvison said.
FMCSA expects the rule to place fewer than 100 truckers out-of-service per year.
The 60-day clock on the unsatisfactory rating starts ticking when the company receives official notice of the rating from FMCSA, and typically the company knows it has a problem as soon as the compliance review is done.
Harvison also said that some of the recordkeeping requirements are not trivial. Included in the rating process are driver hours of service records, commercial driver license records and, in the case of the tanker industry, important records concerning tank maintenance.
As a matter of philosophy, FMCSA says, it prefers to help truckers improve their safety, rather than place them out of service. The rule allows truckers to request a review of an “unsatisfactory” fitness rating. If that review cannot be completed within the 60 days, an extension can be granted, the agency said.
“FMCSA does not view a proposed unsatisfactory safety rating as directing a motor carrier to prepare to cease its operations,” the agency writes in the rule. “The agency’s mission is to promote safe, efficient, and effective transportation of people and goods.
“However, if a motor carrier has demonstrated that it is unwilling or unable to accomplish its transportation mission safely, it must not be allowed to place the safety of its drivers or of other highway users in jeopardy.”
To clear the “unsatisfactory” rating, the trucker must request an agency review after it has fixed its problems. The safety agency has 45 days to perform the review after the request is made (hazardous materials carriers and bus lines get their review within 30 days).
The rule is not retroactive: it will not apply to truckers that received “unsatisfactory” ratings before it becomes effective.

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