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How to Improve Your Motor Carrier Safety Rating

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The Department of Transportation (DOT) motor carrier safety rating is very important for carriers. Achieving a satisfactory rating means safety standards are being followed, giving shippers and brokers more confidence they can be trusted with loads. Anything less than satisfactory, and you may find yourself struggling to book your next haul. Find out more about the different motor carrier rating categories, how scores are determined, and how to improve your MC safety rating.

What Is a Motor Carrier Safety Rating?

The DOT routinely performs motor carrier safety evaluations through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). A carrier may be evaluated after a violation, in response to a formal complaint, or if they have specifically requested a change in rating. All registered motor carriers are listed with one of the following ratings:

  1. Satisfactory

A satisfactory rating indicates that a carrier is operating in compliance with DOT safety regulations. This is the highest rating available and what shippers and brokers look for when working with carriers.

  1. Conditional

If the FMCSA determines that a carrier has inadequate safety controls that could lead to further violations, they will be listed as conditional. This rating typically means a carrier is expected to resolve issues and can still operate in the meantime.

  1. Unsatisfactory

This rating shows that a carrier is not compliant and has too many safety issues. An unsatisfactory rating means a carrier must cease operations.

  1. Unrated

This designation means that a carrier has not yet received a federal audit. The majority—about 92% of carriers—are listed as unrated today.

How the FMCSA Determines Safety Ratings

Several factors contribute to a motor carrier’s DOT safety rating.

Are you operating with FMCSA authority?

Is your DOT reporting up to date?

Are all documents, legal requirements, and driver specifications current?

The FMCSA’s safety fitness standard (49 CFR 385.5) specifically lists the following risk factors they’re looking for during an audit:

  1. Commercial driver’s license standard violations
  2. Inadequate levels of financial responsibility
  3. The use of unqualified drivers 
  4. Improper use and driving of motor vehicles 
  5. Unsafe vehicles operating on the highways 
  6. Failure to maintain accident registers and copies of accident reports 
  7. The use of fatigued drivers 
  8. Inadequate inspection, repair, and maintenance of vehicles 
  9. Transportation of hazardous materials, driving and parking rule violations 
  10.  Violation of hazardous materials regulations, and
  11.  Motor vehicle accidents and hazardous materials incidents.

In order to look for these risk factors, the FMCSA will analyze things like your crash involvement rates, cargo securement checks, on-road performance through roadside inspections, and vehicle inspection and maintenance records. They will also look for the following:

  • Compliance with Hours-of-Service regulations.
  • Driver fitness and qualification status.
  • Proper handling and transportation of Hazardous Materials.
  • Alcohol and drug testing results of drivers.
  • Safety Management Systems (SMS) assessment.
  • Compliance with transportation laws and regulations.
  • Driver and company past violations.
  • Reviews of carrier records and documentation.
  • Carrier’s Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) rating. 

Remember, this is a thorough federal audit, so no stone will be left unturned. It is essential to keep detailed records of your business, particularly if you are still unrated.

Finding Your MC Safety Rating

Any carrier can access their motor carrier safety rating. The easiest way to do this is through the Safety and Fitness Electronic Records (SAFER) System. Simply enter your USDOT number to find your business, and scroll down the Company Snapshot results page to see your safety rating. If you do not have a safety rating, the field will say “None.”

How to Improve Your DOT MC Safety Rating

If you are among the carriers who have received an MC safety rating and did not get a satisfactory rating, don’t panic. There are several ways to improve your score.

You must first request a rating change, which will trigger a notice for the DOT to send a representative for a follow-up audit. When the FMCSA returns, you will need a corrective action plan in place to show your intentions for compliance.

Some ideas for your corrective action plan include:

  • Regular vehicle maintenance and inspections.
  • Training on safety protocols.
  • Ensuring compliance with Hours-of-Service rules.
  • Establishing a strict alcohol and drug-free policy.
  • Maintaining accurate and updated documentation.
  • Enforcing seat belt usage at all times.
  • Implementing a comprehensive Safety Management System.
  • Regularly reviewing records and qualifications.
  • Properly handling and transporting hazardous materials.
  • Compliance with all transportation laws and regulations.
  • Promptly addressing any issues identified during roadside inspections.
  • Ensuring cargo is correctly and safely secured.
  • Regular internal audits to identify and correct any compliance issues.
  • Using safety technology like cameras and telematics systems.
  • Responding quickly to any FMCSA notices and requirements.

Staying vigilant is crucial when it comes to safety. Be sure to document everything—the more attention to detail you put into your plan, the more likely you are to receive a satisfactory rating.

Once you have requested a rating change and provided your corrective action plan, the FMCSA will provide their decision within 30–45 days. If your improved rating is denied, keep documenting your safety improvements, and try again as soon as you can.

Improve Your Rating Today

The motor carrier safety rating is an in-depth compliance review that can impact your business in a big way. Receiving a conditional motor carrier safety rating may result in the loss of business partners, higher insurance rates, and a bad reputation, while an unsatisfactory rating will result in halting operations. Both ratings can set back your business potential substantially.

Every carrier should strive for a satisfactory motor carrier safety rating—especially if they’re seeking a rating change.

Implementing improved safety practices, keeping detailed records, and always complying with federal guidelines will help you improve your MC safety rating and get your business back on its feet. 
Be prepared for compliance reviews by using technology to your advantage in every aspect of your business. Truckstop helps carriers find quality loads, keep track of important compliance paperwork, simplify IFTA reporting, and more. Request a demo today.

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