FOTM lapses don’t excuse violations

The failure of a safety investigator to follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s training materials for enforcement doesn’t excuse violations of the federal regulation or provide a basis for a reduced civil penalty, the agency said Friday, May 26.

In a Federal Register notice, FMCSA said it was restating policy already in effect regarding the purpose and use of the Field Operations Training Manual and the electronically distributed version, called the eFOTM. A redacted version of the eFOTM, which is updated as necessary to reflect new laws and regulations, is available in the FMCSA Electronic Reading Room.

The eFOTM is best characterized as internal enforcement guidelines – a “best practices” guide, FMCSA said. “The investigatory procedures set forth in the eFOTM, and whether and to what extent Agency employees follow them, are not relevant in determining whether Federal motor carrier statutes or regulations have been violated or the appropriate penalty to be assessed for such violations,” FMCSA said in the notice.

“If an employee fails to comply with investigative, inspection, audit or other guidelines, the Agency will address that departure from recommended procedures internally, on a case-by-case basis, and may consider disciplinary action, training or other appropriate measures,” FMCSA said. “However, the Agency hereby provides public notice that it will not consider an FMCSA or State employee’s failure to follow the FOTM or eFOTM guidance as a defense to penalties or violations assessed against drivers or motor carriers.” The agency cited recent adjudication involving J-Line Transportation and Swift Transportation.

For a copy of FMCSA’s notice of interpretation, click here.