The Rise of Off-Site Audits

Off-site motor carrier safety audits have increased over 300% in the past year. Are you at risk?

Published On: 11/14/2019
The Rise Of Off-Site Audits Compliance Brief
J. J. Keller Senior Editor Daren Hansen

Written by:

Daren Hansen

Sr. Transportation Safety Editor — J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

Off-site motor carrier safety audits have increased dramatically in the past year. In fact, between fiscal years 2018 and 2019, there was a 300 percent rise in the number of off-site investigations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and state enforcement agencies.

What Are Off-Site Audits?

Off-site audits allow investigators to evaluate a motor carrier’s safety problems without having to go to the carrier’s place of business, saving time and resources when budgets are tight. Investigators will send one or more requests for information to the motor carrier, which must then submit the requested information to the government electronically, if possible. Investigators will then perform an in-depth review of the information to determine the nature and extent of the carrier’s safety problems.

What Triggers an Off-Site Audit?

Off-site audits are usually triggered by poor scores in the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) system, or a valid complaint. If a motor carrier has a score that’s above the intervention threshold in up to three CSA scoring categories (the BASICs), the FMCSA or state enforcement agency may decide to perform an off-site audit. The audit would focus on the category(ies) with a high score. For example, if a motor carrier is performing poorly on the Hours of Service Compliance and Driver Fitness BASICs, it may be asked to send copies of its drivers’ logs and qualification files to an off-site auditing location for review. If the carrier refuses, auditors may show up for an on-site review.

Why Are Off-Site Audits on the Rise?

The FMCSA has been testing off-site audits in 10 states for several years, and now it’s rolling them out nationwide. They save the agency both time and money, making them an ideal choice for new carriers and those that don’t appear to have serious safety problems. Growth is expected to continue through the coming years as states establish their programs.

What Happens During an Off-Site Audit?

The selected motor carrier will receive a letter or email announcing the audit and asking for certain documentation. The auditor will likely ask for:

  • General information about the company,
  • A list of drivers and vehicles,
  • Insurance information, and
  • Accident information.

The auditor will then ask for digital or paper copies of records related to the problem area(s) of compliance, whether hours of service, driver qualification, vehicle maintenance, drug and alcohol testing, or something else. Generally, they will review fewer files than they would during an on-site audit. Submitting the records electronically is the preferred option.

What Happens After an Off-Site Audit?

An off-site audit that reveals violations can have many of the same consequences as an on-site audit, including:

  • A Notice of Violation, alerting the carrier to violations that need to be corrected,
  • A monetary penalty, and/or
  • A conditional safety rating.

An off-site audit that reveals extensive problems may escalate into an on-site (and much more comprehensive) compliance review. If you’re the subject of an off-site audit, take it seriously, cooperate with all requests, and never underestimate the potential consequences if violations are found.

How can you avoid an off-site audit?

Off-site audits can be avoided by having a rock-solid compliance and safety management program that prevents crashes and roadside violations, which in turn results in good CSA scores. Even if you are chosen for an audit, having a compliant and well-organized recordkeeping system can help you survive the audit with flying colors.

With more off-site audits being performed than ever before, now’s the time to watch your CSA scores closely. Take action to enhance your safety program and reduce crashes and roadside violations as much as possible, and seek help if you need it.

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