The rule, which went into effect Wednesday, significantly raises the bar for would-be carriers. Previously, an applicant simply had to certify that he understood the safety rules and clear a safety audit before he could get permanent registration. That was too easy, the agency said. Now if an applicant commits any of a number of specific violations, he will fail the audit. If he does not correct the violation, his application will be denied.
"This new rule helps to ensure that only the safest carriers can enter the industry and continue to operate on our roadways," said Administrator Anne S. Ferro. "By strengthening the new entrant process, our agency supports new carriers as they establish and maintain critical safety management controls that enable them to operate in full compliance with federal safety regulations."
The agency is targeting new entrants because their safety records are significantly worse than those of experienced carriers. They are involved in more accidents and their drivers and vehicles are more often out of compliance.
The agency's intent is to ensure that all new entrant carriers have basic safety programs and controls in place before they get permanent registration. It identified 16 essential requirements as triggers for failure.
A number of the requirements are aimed at drug and alcohol violations. For example, a carrier that does not implement a testing program would be denied, as would a carrier that uses a driver who has refused an alcohol or drug test or who has tested positive for a controlled substance.
Other requirements concern the CDL. For example, knowingly allowing or forcing an employee whose CDL has been suspended or revoked to drive is grounds for rejection.
Also covered are hours of service rules, insurance requirements and out-of-service violations.
For most of the requirements, a single violation is enough to trigger rejection. There's a little more latitude on two of the rules: new entrants get a failure rate of 51 percent on requiring a driver to keep a log, and not keeping up with periodic inspections.
The agency's intent is not to prevent newcomers from getting into the business but to make sure that they are qualified. If a new entrant fails the audit, he will be given 60 days to correct the problem. Also, the agency intends to continue its practice of providing educational materials to help new entrants put a proper safety program in place.
The rule also targets "chameleon" carriers - those that evade enforcement by re-registering under a different identity. A carrier that provides false or misleading information on its application can lose its registration and be hit with civil or criminal penalties. Also, the agency will link new and old DOT numbers in its database.