The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has ramped up remote safety compliance reviews because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a guidance issued May 20, FMCSA said that during the public health emergency, it will conduct compliance reviews “by leveraging all available technology” to access information and records.
“Using the same standards otherwise applicable, the FMCSA will assign safety ratings following a compliance review even if no on-site review activities have taken place,” it said.
The agency said it is required by law to determine whether an owner or operator of commercial motor vehicles is fit to operate safely. It usually carries out this duty by assigning safety ratings to fleets following in-depth examination of the carrier’s records and operations.
The agency said technology now allows it to perform the same investigative functions remotely that it could perform previously only by in-person reviews of the motor carrier’s files.
Motor carriers may access and transmit their information through a portal directly with FMCSA and upload documents in a secure environment. Many motor carriers maintain their records electronically and prefer to submit the records directly, from the electronic application where they are stored. Motor carriers may also fax or email documents to FMCSA if they so choose, or if they cannot access the portal. FMCSA may also use email and telephone and video calls as a substitute for in-person interaction with motor carrier officials during the compliance review or to review the findings of the compliance review with company officials during the close out.
Off-site compliance audits are not new, explained Dave Osiecki, president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting. In 2019, the number of off-site audits increased by more than 400% over 2018 numbers, and data through April 2020 shows they are on pace to more than double this year.
Between 2010 and 2018, off-site compliance audits were conducted by FMCSA investigators in only 10 states, according to Scopelitis, but in fiscal year 2019, off-site audits were performed in 48 states. Now, in FY 2020, FMCSA investigators in all 50 States are performing off-site audits.
In the first seven months of FY 2020 (Oct 2019 – Apr 2020), the total number of off-site audits is 63% higher than for all of FY 2019 (1,655 vs 1,013). COVID-19, and FMCSA’s work-from-home order, has accelerated the trend toward more off-site audits.
FMCSA investigators use special record sampling procedures for off-site compliance audits that differ from procedures used during on-site audits, Scopelitis noted.
Normally, off-site compliance audits never result in the assignment of a carrier safety rating, but can and do result in fines and penalties for certain violations, according to Scopelitis. In some cases, however, if acute violations are discovered, off-site audits can be converted to comprehensive investigations, which may result in the assignment of a safety rating.
FMCSA’s new guidance explains that during this state of emergency, FMCSA will assign safety ratings following a compliance review even if no on-site review activities have taken place.