The latest revision to the way the federal government assesses fleet safety and compliance will mean the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC just got more important than ever.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration dropped the Cargo BASIC, instead creating a new HazMat BASIC. The Vehicle Maintenance BASIC gets another 100-plus violations that used to be in the Cargo category, meaning Vehicle Maintenance, which already was the largest in terms of violations, is now even more so.

Drew Anderson, director of sales for Vigillo, which analyzes fleet CSA data for fleets in scorecard format, notes that violations in other BASICs often tie back to the Maintenance category, because inspections that uncover them are often triggered by observable maintenance defects.

With the additional cargo securement violations, he says, "that's only going to be amplified as this rolls out in 2013."

From Cargo to HazMat

The change was made because open-deck carriers were subject to increased scrutiny under the Cargo BASIC because the cargo is visible to inspectors.

"With the non-hazmat cargo violations rolling over into maintenance, the impact of what was those relatively high point-value violations has been pretty significantly diluted," Anderson explained.

The new Hazmat BASIC includes the hazmat-related violations from the old Cargo BASIC and adds more than 100 additional violations.

Perhaps most importantly, this BASIC has an intervention threshold score of 80 for all carriers, regardless of their carrier classification. This differs from the other BASICs, where a carrier who is considered a "hazmat carrier" is subject to a stricter threshold than a non-hazmat carrier.

Top Maintenance Violations

The Vehicle Maintenance BASIC is one of the hardest areas for carriers to improve because of the frequency of the violations and relative ease with which inspectors finding them. It's one where carriers can use all the help they can get.

Here's a list of the five most common vehicle maintenance violations discovered in roadside inspections:

- Inoperative required lamps. Non-working headlamps, tail lamps and turn signals.

- No or defective lighting. Missing or defective lighting such as retro-reflective striping or projecting lighting such as rotating beacons on oversize loads.

- Inspection/repair and maintenance, parts and accessories. Defects discovered by an inspector but not noted on the driver vehicle inspection report (DVIR).

- Tire tread depth less than 2/32 inch. Fleets normally take three tread depth measurements around a tire and average them out for tire wear analysis, but DOT inspectors can cite a tire with any single spot worn to less than 2/32, which could include flat-spotted areas.

- Oil and/or grease leak. This one is self-explanatory and illustrative of the challenge that fleets have in keeping the Vehicle Maintenance BASIC clean.

There are also several brake violations on the Top 10 list. They are serious, and almost all brake violations are worth 10 points.