Are You in Line for a Safety Audit?
By Henry E. Seaton
April 2001
Reprinted from

Small carriers, simply because of their size, are likely targets for audit under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's SafeStat system. In an effort to concentrate its efforts on unsafe carriers, the agency ranks carriers and relies heavily on the number of recordable accidents reported on its system to target enforcement. The number of accidents a carrier has as compared to its size as reported on Form MCS-150 is a critical selection factor. One or two recordable accidents can send a small carrier's rating through the roof, although the same number would have little effect on its larger competitor.

The FMCSA has no system to determine whether the recordable accident was preventable. If studies used in the hours-of-service debate are correct, more than half of the serious car/truck accidents are caused by four-wheelers. But the SafeStat system does not make this assumption. As a result, a small carrier may be a target for audit because of one or two accidents, which were not its fault.

The Transportation Lawyers Association, supported by the American Trucking Associations and the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, has petitioned the Department of Transportation to provide a process for allowing carriers to contest erroneous SafeStat information. That petition gathers dust at the FMCSA.

You can determine your SafeStat score and obtain a detailed carrier profile from the Web ( Particularly helpful is a carrier selection list by state that ranks carriers by number and category, starting with the carrier identified with the worst safety performance and, therefore, most likely to draw an audit.

If you are listed as category A, B or C -- considered by FMCSA to be the highest risk -- and you have not been audited, expect a visit. The good news is that the DOT website shows your greatest areas of weakness in the "eyes" of the SafeStat system, so you can address them proactively before you draw an audit.
If you are not on your state's SafeStat list for an audit, and you are notified that one is about to occur, ask whether the audit is in response to a complaint. Specific complaints and follow-ups to previous enforcement action are generally the only reasons other than your SafeStat category for an audit.

An unsuccessful audit can produce two adverse consequences - a less than satisfactory safety rating or a substantial fine. Under a recent FMCSA regulation, an unsatisfactory safety rating can put you out of business. And a conditional rating can cause you to lose customers and drive up your insurance costs. It's crucial, therefore, that you fight hard to win and keep a satisfactory rating.

The stakes have never been higher with fines as well. FMCSA recently enacted new policies that will yield far larger fines than ever before. In recent announcements of fines totaling $368,000 and $150,000, FMCSA has shown that it has every intention of following through on the threat.

If you are fined and are not a repeat offender, the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act may help. Under this law, which the FMCSA acknowledges is applicable, the severity of a fine on a small carrier may be mitigated by its inability to pay and the adverse consequences that would result from a full assessment. The agency has an internal document called a uniform fine assessment decision, which can provide guidance for determining whether any fine assessed is overly harsh under the circumstances.

FMCSA's enforcement probably will remain aggressive. Analyze your safety profile, and address areas of concern. Make sure that preventable accidents do not count against you. Be prepared to appeal adverse decisions that are based on inaccurate and incomplete information supplied to SafeStat and relied upon by the auditors. Don't let an auditor unjustifiably conclude that the trucking industry is safer without you -- at least not without a fight.
(703) 573-0700
Copyright© 2006 Law Office of Seaton & Husk, LP. All rights reserved.