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What is the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program
The New Entrant Safety Assurance Program is an initiative by the FMCSA to evaluate and ensure that new motor carriers in the U.S. trucking industry adhere to federal safety regulations and standards during their initial 18 months of operation.
The FMCSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), is charged with regulating and overseeing the nation’s commercial motor vehicle (CMV) sector, with a focus on safety. As the number of motor carriers grew, the FMCSA recognized a need to implement a program targeting new entrants to ensure that they are familiar with and adhere to relevant safety regulations.
Purpose of the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program
The primary objective of the New Entrant Safety Assurance Program is to reduce the risk of CMV-related accidents, injuries, and fatalities. It does so by:
- Ensuring that new entrant motor carriers are aware of and in compliance with federal safety standards.
- Identifying motor carriers that may pose a safety risk and taking corrective actions early in their operations.
- Providing education and resources to help new entrants understand and meet their safety obligations.
The New Entrant Audit Breakdown
Once a new motor carrier successfully registers with the FMCSA and receives its USDOT Number, it enters a period known as the “new entrant period,” which typically lasts 18 months.
During this time frame, new carriers are subject to the New Entrant Safety Audit.
The exact timing can vary, but the audit is typically conducted within the first 12 months for trucking companies and within the first nine months for passenger carriers.
The primary goal of the New Entrant Safety Audit is to ensure that new commercial motor carriers have basic safety management controls in place to conduct operations safely. It acts as a vetting process, ensuring new entrants understand and are compliant with federal regulations.
The New Entrant Audit aims to:
- Review the motor carrier’s safety management systems and practices.
- Ensure that the carrier has effective procedures in place to comply with the Hours-of-Service (HOS) rules, driver qualifications, vehicle maintenance, accident register, and controlled substances and alcohol use testing regulations.
- Identify and address potential safety issues early in the motor carrier’s operational lifecycle.
Key Components Evaluated
The audit reviews several critical areas of a carrier’s operation, including but not limited to:
Ensuring drivers have valid commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), medical certifications, and that proper records are maintained.
Checking that drivers adhere to established HOS regulations and that logbooks or Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) are used accurately.
Learn about ELDs here.
Ensuring vehicles are routinely inspected, maintained, and repaired, and that appropriate records are kept.
Controlled Substances and Alcohol Use
Confirming that the carrier has a program in place to test drivers for drugs and alcohol, in line with federal regulations.
Making sure carriers maintain a record of any reportable accidents.
Hazardous Material (if applicable)
If the carrier transports hazardous material, the audit ensures compliance with associated safety regulations.
Upon completion of the audit, if a new entrant is found to have no critical or acute violations and demonstrates compliance with safety regulations, they may exit the new entrant period. Conversely, if significant violations are found, the new entrant could face further scrutiny, corrective action requirements, or even be denied permanent registration.
Pass: If the carrier demonstrates compliance and has no critical or acute violations, they may continue operations and eventually exit the new entrant period after 18 months.
Fail: Significant violations may result in a carrier being denied permanent registration, requiring them to take corrective actions or potentially face an “Out-of-Service” order.
Safety Audit Violations
These violations are broadly categorized into “acute” and “critical.”
An acute violation is one that the FMCSA considers so severe that immediate corrective action is required, regardless of the overall safety posture of the carrier.
A critical violation, on the other hand, is a specific regulatory violation based on patterns of non-compliance.
Hours-of-Service: Knowingly allowing a driver to exceed the 11-hour driving limit or the 14-hour duty period.
Drug and Alcohol: Employing a driver who tested positive for controlled substances or alcohol and failed to complete the return-to-duty process.
Vehicle Maintenance: Dispatching a vehicle with an out-of-service defect or without addressing known safety defects.
Hazardous Materials: Failing to provide security for hazardous materials or transporting them without proper placards.
Driver Qualification: Repeated instances of employing drivers without verifying their qualifications or maintaining inadequate records.
Hours-of-Service: Repeated patterns of HOS violations, such as not maintaining accurate records of duty status.
Learn about HOS here.
Drug and Alcohol: Not implementing a controlled substances and alcohol testing program.
Vehicle Maintenance: Not systematically inspecting, maintaining, and repairing vehicles or keeping inadequate records.
Hazardous Materials: Not preparing or providing appropriate shipping documentation for the transport of hazardous materials.
Other Potential Failures
- Failing to pay civil penalties previously assessed by the FMCSA.
- Operating a passenger carrier without the necessary authority.
- Operating a vehicle without the required level of financial responsibility (insurance).
- Using a driver who has been issued an out-of-service order.
It’s worth noting that the presence of acute or critical violations doesn’t automatically result in a failure. The FMCSA evaluates the entirety of the audit and considers patterns of behavior. However, certain acute violations, because of their severe nature, might be enough to fail the audit on their own.
Implications for the Trucking Industry
The New Entrant Safety Assurance Program and its associated audit process underscore the U.S. trucking industry’s commitment to safety. By ensuring that newcomers adhere to the same rigorous safety standards as established carriers, the program aims to level the playing field, fostering a safer operating environment for all.
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