Are You a Candidate for a Safety Audit?
By Henry E. Seaton

March 1999
Reprinted from

The Federal Highway Administration lacks the manpower to audit every small carrier, so it's concentrating on fleets that may pose a statistical risk of unsafe operations. Four factors determine your chances for an audit:

your ratio of drivers placed out of service to driver inspections conducted;
your ratio of vehicles placed out of service to the vehicles inspected;
your number of accidents, and
your management's history of compliance.

The FHWA puts accident and state and federal inspection information in a database. Much of this information is now available on the Internet through the Safety and Fitness Electronic Records System, which is sponsored by FHWA. You can check your own report card at any time to see how you compare to the national average.

Point your Web browser to Once there, scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on "SAFER Database Queries." From there, search by MC or DOT number or by name. This will give you a "snapshot" of your fleet, including address, fleet size, freight information, roadside out-of-service record, insurance coverage and safety rating, if one exists. The SAFER program profile is a pretty good indication of your likelihood of an audit. For example, you can assess your fleet's safety performance relative to the national average and use that information to take remedial steps, if necessary.

But FHWA's statistical analysis is not perfect. The agency doesn't compare accidents to the number of highway miles operated or to any other objective standard that would allow a fair or accurate comparison among carriers. Instead, FHWA uses data gleaned from information you provide on Form mcs-150, a two-page questionnaire that all carriers are required to fill out "within 90 days after beginning operations."

This form asks new carriers to indicate the commodities they may transport. Carrier mileage for the last calendar year is requested but not used. The form also asks how many trucks by category you own, lease or trip-lease. FHWA uses this initial number of trucks as a baseline for determining your accident ratio. Let's say you started your company five years ago with one truck, completed the mcs-150 form and never changed it. If you have two accidents in 1999, your accident ratio will be two to one even though you may now operate 100 trucks that travel 1.2 million miles a year. The agency has no method to update the mcs-150, so you must.

Check the SAFER System to ensure FHWA's information corresponds with reality. Obtain and file supplemental mcs-150s so you are given credit for the full number of trucks owned, leased or subleased to your company.

Accurate and current information will not remedy the statistical flaws resulting from the agency's reliance on truck numbers rather than miles run. But at least you can ensure that your company is not selected for audit because of inaccurate information that you could easily correct.

So get on the Internet and check your safety information. Based on what you find, take remedial action and submit updated information on Form mcs-150 as required. Either that or start preparing for an unwelcome audit.
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