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What Is FMCSA?


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a government agency established to improve the safety of commercial trucking in the United States. Its operations encompass a wide range of research and policy, from creating licensing tests for commercial drivers to analyzing data on accidents and responding with new guidelines. In partnership with state and local law enforcement and other organizations, the FMCSA works to make sure that the carriers and individual drivers on the nation’s highways are functioning at the highest possible safety levels. Created in 1999, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is a federal agency that works within the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The focus of the administration is to reduce the number of crashes, injuries, and fatalities that take place on the nation’s roads involving large trucks and buses. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also maintains all statistics related to crashes involving fleet trucks and other vehicles. The latest such report shows that the number of crashes involving large trucks has increased slightly. That’s one reason that fleet managers who want to maintain a high level of trucking industry safety turn to telemetric solutions that reduce the risk of operating large trucks.

Registration with the FMCSA

In order to confirm that every carrier operating on an interstate basis within the United States is aware of national trucking safety requirements, registration with the Department of Transportation and the FMCSA is a prerequisite to receiving a USDOT number. This registration includes an audit and eighteen months of close attention to determine that the carrier knows and adheres to the administration’s safety standards. While a USDOT number is required for a carrier to conduct interstate business, many states require it even for business within the state. In addition to this basic registration, the FMCSA also issues differing levels of “operating authority” based on the particulars of each carrier’s business and the area it serves.

Driver Training and Licensing

A major responsibility of the FMCSA is governing national standards for commercial driver’s license (CDL) requirements. Each state establishes its own specific set of tests and qualifications for a CDL, but the FMCSA sets minimum levels to guarantee uniformity in driver training. The administration also sets minimum penalties and blood alcohol levels that the states must meet in prosecuting drivers who violate safe driving rules.

Research and Analysis

One of the FMCSA’s most important functions is to study the data submitted by state authorities on accidents involving commercial vehicles. By analyzing this information and comparing it with data from past years, the administration can gauge the success of safety programs; identify widespread safety issues; and adjust policy as needed. Many of the statistics generated by these studies can be viewed publicly on the official FMCSA website, which details not only the number of accidents reported each year, but also information on reviews, audits, and inspections of carriers and drivers. The FMCSA conducts research and analysis primarily through the CSA program (Compliance, Safety, and Accountability), which uses information provided by roadside inspections and crash reports to determine what steps should be taken to make the trucking industry safer. This takes the form of both large-scale changes in policy and contact with individual companies that display unsafe practices.

Rules and Regulations

Trucking companies must comply with the rules established by the FMCSA. Some of these regulations apply to the operations of the company as a whole, addressing topics such as employee safety, insurance requirements, training, and record keeping. Other rules govern vehicle emissions, equipment, inspections, and repairs. There is a further set of requirements for drivers, establishing guidelines for CDLs, record keeping, and the number of hours drivers may spend on the road. Following all of these regulations is essential for the legal operations of a carrier, and FMCSA agents conduct regular inspections to make sure that a company is following all rules.

Informational Programs and Campaigns

In addition to its regulatory functions, the FMCSA also manages efforts to spread information and awareness of driving safety topics through national campaigns. One of the largest of these is Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT), a program that cooperates closely with state authorities to create highly visible reminders of driving safety rules such as seatbelt use and passing procedures. It largely focuses on the increased safety concerns connected with driving near tractor trailers, such as tailgating and changing lanes unsafely. The CMV Safety Belt Program combats low safety belt use among commercial motor vehicle drivers, and the PRISM program was initiated to aggressively restrict the operations of carriers that show an alarming level of disregard for safety procedures. A motor carrier company that places a high priority on the safety of its drivers and others on the road values the efforts and involvement of the FMCSA. By carefully following the established rules of operation for companies, vehicles, and drivers, and by cooperating with inspections, carriers do their part to keep the roads safe.

FMCSA Large Truck Crash Data

The FMCSA data shows the need for more safety in fleet management. The federal agency reports that there were 4,079 fatal crashes involving large trucks or buses in 2016, the latest numbers available. That number is 6% higher than the number from previous years. In all, there were 34,439 fatal accidents when all vehicles are counted. Other statistics from FMCSA shed a light on accidents in the trucking industry.
• More than 39% of large truck occupants killed in crashes were not wearing a seatbelt
• In 17% of truck crashes that included a large truck occupant fatality, speed was a factor
• Of all fatal crashes involving large trucks, 61% happened in rural areas
• Of all the fatal crashes in work zones, 27% involved a large truck
• Driver distraction played a role in 6% of large truck crashes – of those, 16% involved cell phone use

The FMCSA also reports that 10 states have the highest number of large truck fatal accidents. They are California, Texas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. Duties include researching, developing, testing and enforcing safety standards for commercial motor vehicles and commercial driver’s license holders. The FMCSA also issues USDOT numbers and operating authority to trucking companies. The CSA program uses safety data and the safety measurement system to help rank trucking companies and identify high-risk and dangerous trucking fleets and improve safety across the motor carrier industry.

Hours of Service

HOS are federal regulations to limit the hours of operations for truck drivers and CMV operators. These regulations include rules around the use of ELDs.

The FMCSA is the DOT department entrusted with developing safety standards for commercial motor vehicle operators and keeping records on their safety performance according to those parameters. It is an integral part of GPS fleet tracking. This led to the creation of the FMCSA’s Safety Management System, or SMS. It evaluates a commercial motor carrier based on CSA (compliance, safety and accountability) criteria, and produces an SMS/CSA score. This acts as a report card a measurement of the carrier’s safety compliance, and a rating that reveals where it stands in relation to other businesses that are similar in size and operation.
The FMCSA mission is stated on the agency’s homepage: FMCSA is promoting safety compliance to help keep our Nation’s roadways safer for everyone. Lives and livelihoods depend on it.
The Basics of Safety
An SMS/CSA score is derived from a set of guidelines known as BASICs: Behaviour Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories. There are seven categories in all, as follows:
• Unsafe driving: Violations such as speeding, improper lane change, inattention.
• Fatigued driving: Evaluated using driver hours of service (HOS) records, because an excessive number of hours behind the wheel is considered evidence of fatigue.
• Driver fitness: which covers training, medical issues, licensing and certifications.
• Controlled substances/alcohol: This may require drug testing.
• Vehicle maintenance: examples of violations include mechanical defects or improper loading.
• Hazardous materials compliance: covers the regulations on safe handling and proper documentation for these materials.
• Crash indicator: a history or pattern of high crash involvement in accidents, with more weight given to recent incidents than past events.

What the FMCSA Scores Mean

An SMS/CSA score is expressed as a number for each of these categories. A high number indicates a greater risk of accident. The numbers are combined to produce an overall SMS/CSA score, and recent events are weighted more heavily (a calendar-based scale decreases the numerical value of individual incidents over time). The FMCSA offers statistical evidence that SMS/CSA scores are a valid indication of a commercial motor carrier’s safety risk.

Industry Comparison

To ensure a fair assessment of safety performance, the FMCSA places commercial motor carriers in groups, based on size and number of inspections. Each company receives a percentile rating relative to how their BASIC measurements compare to others in the group. Some parts of the BASIC score are made public, so that carriers can assess their performance against their competition and consider areas where improvement is indicated. Other aspects of the ranking (the cargo-related and crash indicator categories) are shielded from disclosure.

Corrective Action

If an SMS/CSA score indicates deficiencies in one or more areas, at its discretion the FMCSA can contact the commercial motor carrier and recommend or require corrective measures. These interventions may take the form of anything from a warning letter to an onsite investigation.


After the SMS/CSA program was implemented a follow-up study examined its ability to improve safety among the organizations that fall under its purview. The study focused on commercial motor vehicle carriers that had received notice of required correction. As a realtor, you must know about the FMCSA because it is an organization that spends a great deal of effort to protect your clients from moving fraud and other potential moving issues. The government agency dedicates an entire site to this subject at This site contains information on how your clients can protect themselves in the moving process. Moving fraud is a real issue that your clients need to be aware of, and the FMCSA created several documents that will help inform your clients of what they need to know and look out for. Two of the most important documents they provide are the Moving Fraud Prevention Checklist and Red Flags of Moving Fraud.
The first document provides checks such as making sure the moving company your client uses is registered with the FMCSA, notes situations to avoid with movers and details things their movers must do and provide by law. The second document lists a number of red flags that your clients should be on the lookout for. These red flags indicate a strong likelihood of moving fraud. Payment before service claims that your client’s goods are completely covered under a mover’s insurance and movers using rental trucks instead of their own are just some of the indicators that your clients are dealing with “rogue” movers. Your clients can find other important information regarding the pre-move process.

If using a moving broker rather than a moving company itself, your client should survey the FMCSA’s Moving Broker Checklist. Much of this information overlaps the information provided in the Moving Fraud Prevention Checklist, but defines the differences between movers and brokers and makes key points relevant only to brokers. Some of the other pages and documents will inform your clients on how to choose a moving company, how to plan for their move and how to understand their valuation options. The moving process doesn’t necessarily finish when your client’s household belongings arrive at their new home. The FMCSA also provides information relevant after a move is completed. There is a lot of guidance that revolves around post-move disputes, loss and damage, and how to file a complaint. These are not situations that are expected or a common occurrence, but your clients need to know where to find information on this type of situation should it occur. Your clients can use a number of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s resources to educate themselves, but also to research potential moving companies and their complaint history. The FMCSA also guides people to other organizations that can support them in their move. When your clients are ready to plan this big step, you’ll know to point them to the FMCSA as a critical source of moving knowledge.

Free Initial Consultation with FMCSA Lawyer

When you need legal help with the FMCSA, please call Ascent Law LLC for your free consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506