Out of service rates are important metrics for regulated motor carriers. These rates, which are publicly available on each carrier’s SAFER profile, indicate how frequently a carrier’s vehicles and drivers are being placed out of service (i.e., prohibited from operating) for serious violations during roadside inspections. As we detailed in a previous article, out of service rates are one of five critical safety metrics that fleets should be closely monitoring and working to improve. High rates can lead to increased enforcement, higher insurance premiums, and lost business.
But how exactly do fleets improve their out of service rates? Well, like most things in life, there is no magic wand that can fix these rates for you; it takes time and effort. But, it is certainly possible to do so. What follows are five steps that carriers can and should take to improve their driver and/or vehicle out of service rates.
Step 1: Understand your data
Before you can fix high out of service rates, you need to first understand where to find them and what they are telling you. The FMCSA's SAFER system displays out-of-service rates for all regulated carriers. Type in the name or USDOT number for any regulated fleet and you will have access to its out of service rates.
As shown in the example below, the FMCSA tracks out of service rates across four separate categories: vehicle, driver, hazmat, and intermodal equipment provider (IEP). Unless you haul hazmat or are an intermodal equipment provider, your two most critical rates will be vehicle and driver. Your out of service rates are a function of how many times your vehicles or drivers have been placed out of service in relation to the total number of vehicle and/or driver inspections you have had over the past 24 months. Thus, if you've had 100 driver inspections over that time frame and 5 of your drivers were placed out of service, your driver out of service rate would be 5%.
Sample OOS Rates
Importantly, the FMCSA's SAFER system compares each fleet's out of service rates to the applicable industry averages. The national average vehicle out of service rates hovers around 21%, whereas the average driver rate is around 5.5%. Higher-than-average OOS rates can lead to FMCSA audits, lost business, higher insurance premiums, and heightened exposure in highway accident litigation, which is why it is critical for fleets to track and improve their rates.
Step 2: Develop and implement appropriate policies
The key to improving out of service rates is to minimize the occurrence of significant roadside violations. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) publishes its Out-of-Service Criteria each year, which dictates the types of violations that will result in drivers or vehicles being placed out of service. Common examples include operating without a CDL when one is required and defective lighting devices.
An important part of improving out of service rates and keeping them in check is to have appropriate policies in place to prevent these types of violations from occurring. Setting clear expectations for drivers in written policies is important for a variety of reasons. And holding drivers accountable to those policies (e.g., progressive discipline) is even more critical. Absent this, you'll be left to fight fires as they arise with no real guiding principles for why you are doing the things you are doing. Being proactive by developing and implementing strong safety policies goes a long way to improve safety metrics over time.
If you're unsure where to start when it comes to your safety policies, check out our Driver Handbook and Safety Manual at the link below.
Step 3: Prioritize issues for correction
Once you know how to track your out of service rates and where they stand currently, you can begin to take steps to improve those rates and keep them in check. If you've found yourself in a situation with higher-than-average out of service rates, it's easy to become overwhelmed with the prospect of improving those rates. Where do you start?
Knowing your out of service rates is only half the picture; you need to also understand exactly what types of issues are causing your rates to be elevated. To do this, you'll need to dive into your Safety Measurement System (SMS) account, which we've described in detail in other articles.
In short, since 2010, the FMCSA has used its Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) system to prioritize federally-regulated motor carriers for enforcement action. The Safety Measurement System (SMS) is one major component of CSA, which ranks carriers against their peers in seven categories known as the BASICs. The agency calculates a motor carrier's CSA scores--also known as Safety Measurement System or SMS scores--with data gathered through roadside inspections, crashes, and investigations occurring within the past 24 months. Violations discovered through inspections and/or investigations are assigned to one of seven categories known as BASICs, and then weighted based, in part, on their severity and how recently they occurred. Each carrier's performance is then evaluated against similarly-situated motor carriers in each BASIC, and the carrier is assigned a percentile score in each BASIC.
SMS is an important tool that carriers should be using routinely to track their roadside inspections and the types/severity of violations discovered during those inspections. As shown in the example below, SMS contains a list of all roadside inspections and violations your fleet has incurred over the past 24 months. In each BASIC, you can see exactly what types of violations are contributing most heavily to your scores. In addition, if you are logged into your own carrier account, you can also see which drivers and which vehicles are incurring the most (and most serious) violations.
By manipulating and filtering the SMS data, you can fairly quickly see the types of violations contributing most heavily to your out of service rates, as well as the worst offending drivers and vehicles. These are the issues that you should prioritize for correction in order to improve your out of service rates.
Sample SMS Report
Step 4: Work with problematic drivers and equipment
Once you've identified the top violations, drivers, and vehicles that are contributing to your high out of service rate, then comes the real work. Once you know your problem areas, you should begin to correct them. If it's certain vehicles that are causing your high out of service rate, then it's time to consider more thorough and frequent inspections of those vehicles by qualified mechanics, and also more thorough pre- and post-trip inspections by your drivers. If it's hours-of-service violations that are contributing to your high rates, then it's time to work with the drivers who are having problems, counseling them on the issues, and providing training where necessary.
Whatever the problems happen to be, the key is to work diligently to fill the gaps by working with drivers and equipment that are having the toughest time complying. Once the ship is righted with these drivers and vehicles, then you will start to incur fewer serious violations over time which will start to drive down your rates. But, don't become complacent...
Step 5: Train and retrain
Another important step to keeping your out of service rates in check is to invest in training for your drivers and safety staff. This should include initial, recurrent, and remedial training. By making sure that you and your drivers are knowledgeable about the nuances of DOT compliance, you can avoid costly violations. But without any formal training program in place, you and your drivers are left in the dark.
If you're looking for a source for this type of training, be sure to check out our Trucksafe Academy, a leading provider of online DOT compliance training resources.
Improving your out of service rates takes time and effort, but it can be done. Doing so can help minimize your exposure to DOT enforcement, lower your insurance premiums, and gain you access to premium freight. If you need help in this area, feel free to contact us!
About Trucksafe Consulting, LLC: Trucksafe Consulting is a full-service DOT regulatory compliance consulting and training service. We help carriers develop, implement, and improve their safety programs, through personalized services, industry-leading training, and a library of educational content. Trucksafe also hosts a monthly live show on its various social media channels called Trucksafe LIVE! to discuss hot-button issues impacting highway transportation. Trucksafe is owned and operated by Brandon Wiseman and Jerad Childress, transportation attorneys who have assisted some of the nation’s leading fleets to develop and maintain cutting-edge safety programs. You can learn more about Trucksafe online at www.trucksafe.com and by following Trucksafe on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.