What is the FMCSA?

What is the FMCSA and what does it do? Read on to learn more.

Governments are under constant pressure to cut costs while delivering high levels of service. A fleet management system by MiX Telematics is the solution.

1. What is the FMCSA?

What the FMCSA is: Formerly part of the Federal Highway Administration, the FMCSA is defined as an independent statutory body that was established within the Department of Transportation in 2000. This was in response to a clear need for improved safety on the roads and highways crisscrossing the United States, and it was felt that a separate, independent statutory body was needed to realize the mission of increasing safety standards on the road, especially where high-risk, commercial vehicles were involved. The ultimate aim of tightening the compliance regulations that fleet vehicles must adhere to is to reduce the incidents of road accidents, injuries, and fatalities involving large vehicles. Greater emphasis was placed on data-driven improvements to safety information systems, vehicle equipment and operating standards, and the establishment and enforcement of norms governing the behavior and working hours of drivers. To effectively enforce these regulations, the Administration works with Federal, State, and local enforcement agencies, the motor carrier industry, labor and safety interest groups, and others.

2. What does the FMCSA do?

  • Administering the testing requirements of commercial drivers’ licenses.
  • Collecting data and analyzing key carrier safety measures to disseminate to partner organizations.
  • Enforcing compliance with regulations and making special arrangements for vehicles transporting hazardous materials.
  • Conducting research and developing technology to improve road safety.
  • Providing financial assistance to implement safety measures to states who cannot afford it.
  • Establishing a unified set of requirements and sharing best practice models with international agencies in charge of a similar mandate.
  1. Practical implementation of FMCSA regulations to the public

  • Public outreach: FMCSA field agents organize talks and presentations to all age groups on road safety.
  • Roadside enforcement: FMCSA field agents work on the ground to inspect large fleet vehicles.
  • Educate on law enforcement: FMCSA Trainers instruct enforcement agencies across the country on how to deal with drivers who are not in compliance with FMCSA standards.
  • Engagement: FMCSA agents across the country connect with trucking companies and fleet managers on how the FMCSA regulations impact their businesses.
  • Distribute safety information: The FMCSA publishes a variety of checklists so anyone can make sure they are following the law if they are transporting goods in a fleet vehicle. These are available to download at protectyourmove.gov
  • Monitor adherence to safety standards: Fleet vehicles are required to register with the FMCSA, detailing the types of cargo they transport, especially in the transportation of hazardous materials.
  • Innovating telemetric systems to make compliance easier: The use of vehicle telemetric systems makes it easy for drivers to comply by, for example, taking the mandatory rest periods the telemetric device alerts them to.
  1. Fleet safety 101

For a trucking business to operate legally, it must register with the FMCSA, detailing the type of business the company is involved in, the size of its fleet, the types of cargo it transports, the persons in charge of managing fleets, and the systems in place to monitor driver and vehicle safety.

Apart from registering with the FMCSA, however, the company must pass recurring safety audits conducted by the Department of Transportation (DOT).  A process of reviewing a motor carrier’s records to establish whether it has the necessary safety management controls in place forms a major part of the DOT audit. If the audit concludes that the company is lacking in its safety control standards, its registration with the FMCSA can be revoked and it can be liable to pay hefty fines.

There are 5 crucial steps a company and/or a fleet manager must take to ensure that penalties are avoided.  

4.1. Accurate and complete records of drivers’ hours worked  

A key aspect when it comes to safety on the road is monitoring driver fatigue. Therefore, one of the most important things a DOT safety auditor will ask for is complete and accurate logbooks of the hours drivers spend on the road. If you’re scheduled for an audit, ensure that all drivers’ logbooks are up to date. This is one area where telematics devices can simplify the process.    

4.2. Ensure that drivers can prove their competence to operate fleet vehicles  

As a rule, all drivers of a fleet management company must be able to show proof that they are licensed to drive large fleet vehicles. These documents can include driver’s licenses, proof of entry-level driver training, DOT physical certifications, and similar documentation. Prepare a file for each driver that includes their qualifications, safety track records, and proof that they regularly undergo tests for alcohol and/or drug use. It is recommended that the company implements a policy to test drivers regularly and randomly for alcohol and drug use. Invest in compiling an information booklet on the regulations regarding this and the consequences of contravening these rules, and provide training, especially to supervisors, to notice if a driver is under the influence of a prohibited substance.   

4.3. Conduct regular inspections of the conditions of your vehicles    

The company’s fleet has to comply with maintenance rules relating to mechanical functioning. Additionally, the external condition of the trucks must be acceptable, with tires that are not overused or too smooth for proper roadholding, chassis that are not dented or bent, and emergency brakes that are in full operation.

In a nutshell, therefore, it is a good policy for a fleet company to have procedures in place that regularly check the suitability and safety of both drivers and vehicles, regularly conduct tests, and keep records of them readily at hand. Records should also contain the details of a vehicle’s owner, registration numbers, and results from previous inspections for roadworthiness.

4.4. Evidence of compliance and financial good governance must be available    

Apart from checking whether a company’s vehicles and drivers are up to scratch to carry out fleet operations, the company itself must be able to demonstrate that it is a legitimate business that complies with state and federal laws, pays its taxes, is registered with the appropriate registration entities, and has adequate insurance for both drivers and vehicles. Regular bookkeeping and financial auditing activities must be undertaken to ensure the solvency of the business. DOT safety auditors will assess how financially responsible a company is and will require access to records that are properly organized. Typically, if the business complies by producing the correct documents on demand, the duly authorized FMCSA inspector will sign off on them.   

It is important to keep a register of all adverse events on the road, such as accidents, crashes, fines, or minor transgressions, as well as the places and dates they occurred and any other relevant information about incidents on the road. The FMCSA Auditor must be able to access these records easily. Apart from the insurance documents, a company must be able to produce full records of accidents if the auditor asks for them.

4.5. Maintain scrupulous records of any hazardous materials your fleet may be transporting   

As you might have picked up in the preceding part of this blog, the transportation of hazardous materials, such as toxic, flammable, combustible, or corrosive substantives must be done in fleet vehicles that are made from the correct materials to safely transport these substances. Because of the potential for significant damage that hazardous materials can cause, they are often directed along different routes than those used by normal traffic. Furthermore, a person who drives a fleet vehicle carrying dangerous materials must have specialized training on the characteristics of the materials they are transporting, and they must be trained on how to correctly cordon off a scene of an accident where there is a high level of danger to other road users.   

Working with hazardous materials requires diligent record keeping of which vehicles are on the road with the cargo, the nature of the materials it is carrying, the destination it is traveling to, the distance the vehicle will have to cover, and if any additional safety precautions need to be taken. It is often best to assign more than one driver to the vehicle. A company must be able to prove that it followed all of these procedures, often by using documentary proof, but with vehicle telematics such as that provided by MiX, this information is recorded automatically, allowing fleet managers to monitor this dangerous cargo in real-time until it reaches its final destination.

The bottom line is all fleet companies have to ensure that they not only know what kind of information an FMCSA Auditor will be asking for, but they must also have accurate, correct, and well-organized documentation readily at hand in order to streamline the process.

  1. Programs implemented by the FMCSA

The FMCSA carries the responsibility of designing, teaching, testing, and certification of FMCSA employees and non-FMCSA employees. This includes inspectors. investigators. and auditors who are funded through the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP), and other non-FMCSA employees who enforce Federal commercial statutes and regulations, and who interact with FMCSA information systems. The FMCSA collaborates with other related road safety institutions such as the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CYSA) through curricula established and administered by the National Training Centre (NTC).

5.1. Safety programs

The NTC’s Safety Programs encompass commercial vehicle safety and training. The FMCSA Academy’s training programs must be completed and passed by all new safety investigators and border inspectors wishing to become field agents or instructors for the Federal and State Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) enforcement bodies. Each year, approximately 15,000 State law enforcement partners enrol for training in Safety Programs with the NTC. 

In 2015, significant updates were made to the federal government’s policy on the procedures to be followed in order to certify FMCSA and non-FMCSA employees as inspectors, investigators, auditors, those who enforce federal statutes and regulations as well as those who use the FMCSA information systems. These regulations also apply to private contractors who conduct safety audits and inspections.

Since the 2015 amendments were made, several certification policies that were very specific were established, mainly to accommodate the growing mandate and responsibility of the Agency. As the responsibilities of the Agency have increased, a need was created for policy to incorporate a broader scope of certification requirements.

5.2. Training courses

Specific training courses include:

5.2.1. FMCSA Academy

  • Agency-Industry Orientation
  • Basic Investigative Techniques (BIT)
  • Interviewing and Investigative Techniques
  • Personal Safety


5.2.2. Investigative

  • Advanced Drug and Alcohol Investigative Techniques 
  • Commercial Enforcement and Consumer Protection (CECP)
  • Enforcement Procedures-Investigative 
  • Enforcement Procedures-Roadside 
  • Investigative Safety Analysis (ISA)
  • New Entrant Safety Audit Course (NESA)
  • Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE)


5.2.3. Roadside

  • North American Standard - Part A (NAS A)*
  • North American Standard - Part B (NAS B)*
  • Passenger Carrier Vehicle Inspection (PCVI)*
  • Truck and Bus Traffic Enforcement (TBTE)
    • FMCSA’s Truck and Bus Traffic Enforcement Training (TBTE) was developed by NTC in collaboration with law enforcement and designed to enhance officers’ knowledge about the dangers of unsafe truck and bus driving behaviors. The training is designed for all law enforcement officers, not just inspectors.
    • Through this training, law enforcement officers will learn about:
      • Violations that cause crashes.
      • Safety concerns before, during, and after vehicle stops.
      • Documentation requirements.
      • Indicators of severe vehicle defects.
      • Specific citation procedures.


5.2.4. Hazardous materials

  • Cargo Tank Facility Review (CTFR)
  • Cargo Tank Inspection (CTI)
  • General Hazardous Materials (GHM)*
  • Other Bulk Packaging (OBP)


5.2.5. Instructor

  • Instructor Certification Program

The Instructor Certification Program is open to individuals employed by FMCSA or a participating State program who present NTC training as part of their duties. Participants can receive certification as a Presenter, Instructor, or Master Instructor. 

5.2.6. Requirements for certification

NTC coursework is categorized into three tiers that correspond to the level of certification required for each role. The three tiers are:

  1. Outreach and Education
  2. Safety Program Certification
  3. NTC Certification

Each role’s description includes the tasks and responsibilities, as well as the required knowledge, skills, and competencies an individual must possess to act in such a capacity.

6. What is CSA?

CSA stands for Compliance, Safety, and Accountability. It emphasizes the responsibilities of fleet companies and drivers when it comes to safety compliance and enforcement. CSA identifies carriers, and owner-operators, who do not comply, prioritizing them for interventions such as warning letters and investigations.


  • A company’s safety data appears online on the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS).
  • The FMCSA updates the SMS once a month with data from roadside inspections, including driver and vehicle violations; crash reports from the last two years; and investigation results.

7. Overview of FMCSA scores – What is taken into consideration when calculating a CSA score?

  • The number of safety violations and inspections a company has received.
  • The severity of violations or crashes.
  • When the violation occurred (recent events are weighted more heavily).
  • The total number of trucks and number of vehicle miles travelled.
  • Acute and critical violations that were found during an investigation.

8. SMS categories and pass rate

The FMCSA organizes SMS data into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), each of which has a cut-off score to fail or to pass. CSA scores are calculated by using SMS data from roadside inspections, crashes, and investigations that have occurred in the last 2 years.

  • Unsafe driving

Speeding, improper lane change, following too closely, etc.

  • Hours of Service compliance

Compliance with Hours of Service (HOS) required 8-hour break, maximum driving times, and falsified log violations.

  • Driver fitness

Driving while under an Out of Service (OOS) order, expired medical, or missing endorsements.

  • Controlled substances/alcohol

Use, possession, or a refusal to take a test.

  • Vehicle maintenance

Brakes, lights, tires, etc.

  • Hazardous materials compliance

The HazMat Compliance requirement specifies[1]: “Persons" who offer for transportation, or transport in foreign, interstate, or intrastate commerce: (a) any highway route controlled quantity of a Class 7 (radioactive) material; (b) more than 25 kg (55 lbs.) of a Division 1.1, 1.2, or 1.3 (explosive) material in a motor vehicle, rail car or freight container; (c) more than 1 L per package of a material extremely poisonous by inhalation; (d) a hazardous material in a bulk packaging having a capacity of 3,500 gals. for liquids or gases, or more than 468 cubic feet for solids; (e) a shipment in other than bulk packaging of 5,000 lbs. gross weight or more of one class of hazardous material for which the transport vehicle requires placarding; (f) any quantity of materials requiring placarding”.

9. Minimum and maximum scores permissible for a successful audit outcome

BASICs help the FMCSA group you with other carriers that have a similar amount of safety events.

Each BASIC category comes with its own percentage requirement. To avoid potential interventions or investigations by the FMCSA, the company will have to stay below the following requirements. Please refer to the below figure for the minimum requirements for a fleet company to pass a safety audit.

10. The implications of FMCSA regulations on the oil and gas industry

To put it simply, oil, petroleum, diesel, gas, butane, paraffin, and other derivatives of the crude oil refining process are hazardous, combustible, and highly flammable – requiring specialized equipment to put out fires if they should break out and to cordon off sections of road where any of these materials may have spilled as they affect the road holding ability of other vehicles to the tarmac or concrete road. All the standard requirements that must be met to get certification for both drivers and vehicles from the FMCSA must be met, but several additional requirements must be met in the case of a fleet vehicle transporting dangerous materials. Vehicles must comply with very specific standards in terms of how they are built and engineered, and drivers must be able to initiate emergency proceedings in the case of an accident while waiting for additional emergency support to arrive.

These vehicles are often required to use alternative routes than those used by regular traffic, must take extra precautions such as having a second driver in the cab and fire extinguishing materials close at hand, and the movements of these fleets need to be monitored and documented with particular care. The information gathered by telematics devices such as those installed by MiX is perfectly calibrated to collect the necessary, detailed information that is required by fleets that transport dangerous cargo.

The HazMat regulation requirements are quoted above and provide very specific guidelines in terms of how much of a particular material can be transported at a time, the range of materials that are considered to be hazardous, as well as the laws that govern the adherence to these regulations and prescribes punishments for non-adherence.


[1] Please refer to this regulatory requirement online here.

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