The old saying in trucking is that the easiest way to avoid violations is to be proactive about compliance. For some, that is easier said than done. Many commercial carrier operations believe complying with regulations is enough. This is especially true when it comes to drivers.
According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulation title 49 §391.25, motor carriers (or their designees) must pull a motor vehicle record (MVR) of anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce (or in some cases intrastate-only drivers when the state requires it). A new driver’s record must also be pulled within 30 days of hire for a non-CDL driver and sooner for a CDL driver to verify his or her medical status. The carrier must request the driver’s record at least annually and document that review of the MVR.
But according to experts from compliance specialists J. J. Keller & Associates, pulling records only once a year might miss important events that will trigger an out-of-service violation and potentially create legal liability for a fleet should an incident result in litigation.
Kathy Close, transport safety editor with J. J. Keller, said she has spoken with several customers over the years that were caught off-guard by suspended licenses due to administrative reasons such as not paying alimony or back child support payments.
“Since the reason was not safety-related, there was no pattern or history of unsafe driving to call into question a license status,” she said. “Nevertheless, the driver was not qualified to operate a CMV. Had the customer used an MVR monitoring service rather than request the minimum annual MVR, the driver would not have been placed out of service by enforcement.”
An MVR records a driver’s current information with the state driver’s licensing agency including driver’s license (number, class, endorsements, restrictions, expiration date), violations, disqualification, misdemeanor moving violations or convictions, accidents, medical status and state-based driving record points. Of note, moving violations in any type of vehicle are recorded, including personal vehicles and those operated for non-CMV fleets.
“A driver’s driving habits in a personal vehicle are a good indicator of how he or she will operate your commercial vehicles,” Close said.
Violations can include speeding, driving under the influence, seat belt violations, traffic control device violations and reckless driving. In fact, the majority of the top 10 driver violations during roadside inspections each year pertain to these types of issues, not hours of service as many assume.
All of these violations will impact carrier CSA scores to varying degrees. For instance, speeding between 6 and 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit counts as 4 CSA points (on a 10-point scale). Failure to use a seat belt is 7 points and operating a CMV without a valid CDL is 8 points. Accumulate enough points and FMCSA auditors may come knocking on the fleet’s doors.
Keeping track of all this information is complicated with records in multiple states and each state maintaining records for varying amounts of time. But the important caveat is that this information could potentially deem a commercial driver ineligible to drive a CMV, and if a carrier misses that, it increases the overall risk profile of the fleet.
For carriers looking to be proactive about avoiding violations, once-a-year MVR monitoring is not a good option. Monitoring the MVR more frequently helps fill in gaps that may exist. While CDL drivers are supposed to notify a motor carrier if they lose their license or receive traffic convictions, not all do. J. J. Keller said that ignorance of a driver’s status is not a defense when under FMCSA audit — and it likely wouldn’t be an acceptable defense in a courtroom either.
Close said another client told her of a driver whose medical card had been downgraded by his state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Thankfully the carrier learned of the downgrade through an alert in their MVR monitoring service,” Close related. “The customer avoided a roadside violation and having their driver placed out of service. The driver was on a dispatch at the time — 1,800 miles away from his home. So the carrier pulled the driver off the road and placed him out of service at another of the company’s terminals. The driver was flown back by choice of the carrier to get the issue resolved at the home state DMV.”
What is MVR monitoring?
MVR monitoring comes in a couple of different forms. Many use a pull service (sometimes known as self-service). In this case, the carrier or its designee must log in to the state motor vehicle department from which the driver was issued the license. This potentially means logging in to as many as 50 different systems.
Push or employer notification services (ENS) are offered by some states and can be a useful way for carriers to receive updates, but as of September, there are only 19 states that offer these services. In all other states, the process is manual. For fleets with even a few drivers in different states, the time it takes to monitor an entire fleet of driver records can quickly add up.
To maintain record compliance and as a way to provide continuous MVR monitoring, third-party services such as J. J. Keller can be utilized. These services comply with FMCSA requirements and lift some of the compliance burden from fleet managers. The services can provide annual MVR service or more comprehensive MVR monitoring.
Why monitor MVRs more frequently?
As already touched on, monitoring MVRs more often or even continuously can help fill in gaps when drivers may not be eligible to drive but the carrier is not aware of this yet. MVR monitoring also provides coaching opportunities to mitigate the chances of a more significant future violation or incident.
Proactive coaching can help prevent behaviors from becoming habits, Close noted, and create a pattern of fewer traffic convictions, lessening the chance of an FMCSA audit due to elevated CSA scores.
Benefits extend beyond the regulatory bar, though, and could include less exposure to negligence claims during lawsuits and lower insurance rates as overall fleet risk profile decreases.
Many roadside inspections also start off with a traffic violation, so reducing the chances of a driver being pulled over will correspond to a lower likelihood of an inspection, which could trigger additional violations and even out-of-service orders that stand freight on the side of the road.
How to create a company MVR policy
Whether a carrier chooses to monitor motor vehicle records itself or contract with a third party to handle the task, there are several steps that can be taken to ensure that the information gathered is beneficial, Close said.
Start by assigning someone to carry out the overall MVR policy and ensure it is enforced. Similar to how FMCSA has created a scorecard of violations to generate CSA scores, consider assigning values to MVR data. Use this information to find patterns of behavior, especially unsafe driving behavior. Data has shown that past behavior is an indicator of future behavior.
Using this MVR data, create a progressive disciplinary program. It’s important to remember to conduct training in a positive light and not point out only poor behaviors, Close said. The discipline program should be guided by the gravity of the situation and the number of offenses. Correction actions such as coaching and refresher training may be appropriate, but more significant violations (or repeat violations) may require letters in the driver’s file, suspension or even termination.
Close advised using a corrective training library with behavior-specific training that can be used to ensure refresher training is focused. Targeting the training helps the driver get back on track through a teachable moment rather than through a broad-based safety training that might leave the driver discouraged.
It is also important to not only train on unsafe driving behaviors but also to reward good behavior. Close said drivers can be rewarded for good driving records and accident-free and violation-free miles. Prizes, gift cards and bonuses are some of the possible rewards. Occasionally, companies have rewarded drivers with special advertising on their trucks, or in some instances, with new or custom trucks.
With all the risk trucking carriers face today, a more proactive approach to safety is almost universally considered a best practice. But annual MVR checks can leave significant gaps in that safety program that if not addressed, increase risk on the roadways and in the courtroom. Developing a program that includes continuous MVR monitoring, whether internally or through third parties, is fast becoming a key pillar of safety programs.