New carriers face tighter standards

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Beginning Jan. 1, motor carriers – both for-hire and private – will be required to demonstrate knowledge of safety regulations before they begin operating in interstate commerce. In addition, new entrant carriers must demonstrate during an on-site safety audit conducted within the first 18 months of operation that they maintain basic safety management controls. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s mandate applies not only to newly established trucking operations but also to existing intrastate carriers seeking to operate in interstate commerce.

FMCSA wants proposed new entrants to think of the new application process as an opportunity to learn, not as a complication to fear. The agency says it plans to improve the safety performance of new entrants by providing educational and technical assistance to them as they begin their new businesses.

The safety audit will consist of a review of the new entrant’s safety data, a review of requested motor carrier documents and an interview session with the motor carrier by an individual certified under FMCSA regulations to perform safety audits.
The objective of the safety audit is to educate the carrier on compliance and determine areas where it might be deficient. Areas covered include:

  • Qualification of drivers
  • Driving a commercial motor vehicle
  • Hours of service
  • Vehicle inspection, repair and maintenance
  • Transporting and marking hazardous materials
  • Controlled substances and alcohol use and testing
  • Commercial driver’s license standards
  • Financial responsibility.

If the carrier cannot or will not exercise basic safety management controls, the FMCSA will require corrective action. If the carrier doesn’t comply, FMCSA will deny it the privilege of operating in interstate commerce. The agency, of course, retains full authority to use other enforcement powers, such as compliance reviews, civil penalties, and revocation of new entrant registration for serious safety violations.

New procedures and form
The new regulation establishes new minimum requirements for all applicant motor carriers domiciled in the United States and Canada seeking to operate in interstate commerce for the first time. Mexican carriers are covered by similar but separate rules adopted in March.

FMCSA will provide educational and technical assistance materials regarding the federal motor carrier safety and, if applicable, hazardous materials regulations. Applicants must certify that they know the applicable standards before being granted “new entrant registration” that will continue for at least 18 months. During that period, FMCSA will evaluate safety management practices through a safety audit and monitoring of its on-road performance. Then the agency will decide whether to make the authority permanent.

A new MCS-150A form requires the new entrant to certify that it has systems in place to ensure compliance with applicable requirements covering driver qualifications, hours of service, controlled substance and alcohol testing, vehicle condition, accident monitoring and hazardous materials transportation. In addition, new entrants must, like all carriers, file the motor carrier identification report (Form MCS-150), and for-hire new entrants must file for a certificate of authority.

Private carriers too
The new rule responds to a requirement in the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999 that the Department of Transportation establish minimum requirements for motor carriers seeking federal interstate operating authority. One of those requirements is that new entrants undergo safety reviews within the first 18 months of operations.

In the past, FMCSA has generally construed operating authority to mean registration of for-hire carriers subject to the jurisdiction transferred from the Interstate Commerce Commission. But FMCSA said in its discussion of the interim final rule that it believes the relevant provision in the 1999 act “extends this concept to all carriers subject to Federal safety jurisdiction.” Therefore, all new entrants will be required to meet certain minimum safety standards in order to continue operating in interstate commerce during and after the 18-month period following their receipt of a USDOT number.

No small number
FMCSA expects about 40,000 new-entrant applications each year. Julie Cirillo, FMCSA’s chief safety officer, said recently that the agency would be hiring about 1,300 people over the next year, including about 300 to handle education and audits of new entrants. The other 1,000 will be involved in opening the Mexican border.

The new requirement calls for safety audits to be performed at the carrier’s place of business. Due to the large volume of anticipated applications, however, FMCSA is seeking comment on whether it should conduct some audits at alternate locations so it can provide educational and technical assistance to numerous new entrants simultaneously. The agency also invites comments on whether it would be appropriate for FMCSA-certified private contractors to conduct safety audits.

FMCSA issued the new requirements as an interim final rule without the opportunity for prior public comment. The agency has invited comments until July 12, however, and it could incorporate those comments in a final rule that would be issued at a later date.
For a copy of the interim final rule and information on submitting comments, visit http://dms.dot.gov/search and search Docket 11061.