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What is a DOT-recordable accident?

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

The primary mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to reduce highway accidents involving large trucks and buses. It's no surprise, then, that the FMCSA would have regulations in place requiring motor carriers to keep track of the accidents in which their vehicles and drivers have been involved. More specifically, the regulations require motor carriers to maintain a register of all "DOT-recordable" accidents that have occurred over the past three years. But what exactly qualifies as a DOT-recordable accident? We'll dive into that topic in this article, but generally speaking:

A DOT-recordable accident is one involving a commercial motor vehicle that results in either a fatality, personal injury to any person that requires immediate medical attention away from the scene of the accident, or disabling damage to any vehicle that requires it to be towed from the scene. Motor carriers must list each DOT-recordable in which their vehicles and drivers have been involved in an accident register and maintain that register and associated records (e.g., police reports) for a period of three years.

In the sections that follow, we'll discuss what specific types of accidents qualify as DOT-recordable, whether such accidents must be reported to the FMCSA, whether preventability has any bearing on a motor carrier's regulatory obligations, and when such accidents require drug/alcohol testing.

What accident types are DOT-recordable?

Whether an accident qualifies as DOT-recordable depends on whether it fits within the definition of an "accident" under Section 390.5 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). According to that definition, "accident" means:

an occurrence involving a commercial motor vehicle operating on a highway in interstate or intrastate commerce which results in:

  • A fatality;

  • Bodily injury to a person who, as a result of the injury, immediately receives medical treatment away from the scene of the accident; or

  • One or more motor vehicles incurring disabling damage as a result of the accident, requiring the motor vehicle(s) to be transported away from the scene by a tow truck or other motor vehicle.

The term accident does not include:

  • An occurrence involving only boarding and alighting from a stationary motor vehicle; or

  • An occurrence involving only the loading or unloading of cargo.

Any accidents that fit these criteria are DOT-recordable, and any that don't are not. Of course, as you might expect, there can be some nuance to this analysis. For example, the FMCSA has provided the following regulatory guidance that is pertinent to the analysis:

Question 12: A CMV becomes stuck in a median or on a shoulder, and has had no contact with another vehicle, a pedestrian, or a fixed object prior to becoming stuck. If a tow truck is used to pull the CMV back onto the traveled portion of the road, would this be considered an accident?

Guidance: No.

Question 13: To what extent would the wind shield and/or mirrors of a vehicle have to be damaged in order for it to be considered "disabling damage" as used in the definition of an accident in §390.5?

Guidance: The decision as to whether damage to a windshield and/or mirrors is disabling is left to the discretion of the investigating officer.

Question 18: Must a person who is injured in an accident and immediately receives treatment away from the scene of the accident be transported in an ambulance?

Guidance: No. Any type of vehicle may be used to transport an injured person from the accident scene to the treatment site. The term "immediate" means without an unreasonable delay. A person immediately receives medical treatment if he or she is transported directly from the scene of an accident to a hospital or other medical facility as soon as it is considered safe and feasible to move the injured person away from the scene of the accident.

Question 20: A person involved in an incident discovers that he or she is injured after leaving the scene of the incident and receives medical attention at that time. Does the incident meet the definition of accident in 49 CFR 390.5?

Guidance: No. The incident does not meet the definition of accident in 49 CFR 390.5 because the person did not receive treatment immediately after the incident.

Question 27: A person is transported to a hospital from the scene of a commercial motor vehicle traffic accident. In one situation, the person undergoes observation or a “checkup. Is this considered “medical treatment,” making the CMV occurrence an “accident” for purposes of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations? In another situation, the person undergoes x-ray examination or is given a prescription, but is released from the facility without being admitted as an inpatient. Is the x-ray or prescription considered “medical treatment,” making the CMV occurrence and “accident” for purposes of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations?

Guidance: In the first situation, no. A person who does not receive treatment for diagnosed injuries or other medical intervention directly related to the accident, has not received “medical treatment” as that term is used in §390.5. In the second situation, yes. A person who undergoes x-ray examination (or other imaging, such as computed tomography or CT), or is given prescription medication (or the prescription itself), has received “medical treatment.”

Question 28: A driver of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is changing lanes. A passenger car driver near the CMV loses control, leaves the roadway, and is involved in an accident. The passenger car must be towed. Is the CMV considered to be “involved” under the definition of “accident” in §390.5?

Guidance: The CMV would not be considered “involved” unless the police investigation officer determines that the CMV caused or contributed to the accident.

What information must be included on an accident register?

Accidents that qualify as DOT-recordable must be included on the motor carrier's accident register, which is just an internal document created and maintained by the motor carrier. Section 390.15 of the FMCSRs provide that a motor carrier's accident register must include the following information for every DOT-recordable accident:

  1. Date of accident.

  2. City or town, or most near, where the accident occurred and the State where the accident occurred.

  3. Driver Name.

  4. Number of injuries.

  5. Number of fatalities.

  6. Whether hazardous materials, other than fuel spilled from the fuel tanks of motor vehicle involved in the accident, were released.

The regulations require motor carriers to maintain this information on their accident register for a period of three years. Additionally, carriers must obtain and retain copies of all accident reports prepared by law enforcement and/or insurers for all such accidents.

The FMCSA has clarified that there is no particular form that a carrier must use to create its accident register. If you are in need of one, we have a fully-customizable and downloadable accident register available in our online compliance document library at this link.

Do recordable accidents have to be reported to the DOT?

The FMCSA does not generally require motor carriers to report any accidents to the agency, though the agency will normally be aware of recordable accidents by virtue of the fact that they are uploaded to the FMCSA's Motor Carrier Management Information System (MCMIS) and Safety Measurement System (SMS). That said, the FMCSA does require certain carriers to report accidents, such as those operating under a regulatory waiver. Additionally, even though accidents may not be reportable to the FMCSA, they may very well be reportable to another state or federal agency. Some states, for example, require motor carriers to report certain types of accidents. Likewise, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) requires carriers to report certain accidents that result in unintended releases of hazardous materials.

Are non-preventable accidents recordable?

Historically, the FMCSA has not taken preventability into account when it comes to a motor carrier's regulatory obligations flowing from a recordable accident. In other words, whether or not the accident was the motor carrier's or its driver's fault, the accident would still need to be recorded on the accident register and would still impact the carrier's overall accident rate and SMS scores. That's still the case when it comes to notating accidents on the carrier's accident register, meaning that all recordable accidents, regardless of fault, must be included. With that said, the agency has recently taken steps to begin considering preventability in the context of how those accidents impact a carrier's safety scores, which we will discuss below.

What are the implications of DOT-recordable accidents?

DOT-recordable accidents impact a carrier in a couple of ways. For one, the number of recordable accidents that a motor carrier has incurred over a period of 12 months is used to calculate the carrier's "accident rate."

A carrier's accident rate is important because the FMCSA considers it--along with any violations discovered--during a compliance review to calculate the carrier's safety rating. According to the FMCSA's safety rating methodology, a carrier with an accident rate of more than 1.5 accidents per million miles (for non-urban carriers) or 1.7 accidents per million miles (for urban carriers) over the course of a 12-month period will fail that portion of the audit, which could lead to a downgraded safety rating. By way of example, if a carrier had 4 recordable accidents in 2019 and travelled a total of 2 million miles that year, its accident rate would be 2 accidents per million miles, which would cause it to fail the accident portion of an audit if it were selected for one.

Recordable accidents also impact carriers through their SMS accounts. In particular, the Crash Indicator BASIC is premised on the number and type of recordable accidents in which the carrier has been involved over the past 24 month period. Carriers with a high Crash Indicator score relative to their peers may be at an increased risk for enforcement action, including warning letters, audits, and civil penalties.

As noted above, the FMCSA has recently taken steps to consider accident preventability in these contexts, which wasn't the case historically. For example, if a carrier's accident rate exceeds the applicable threshold in the context of a compliance review, it can typically request that its accident rate be recalculated with any non-preventable accidents removed, so long as it can produce sufficient evidence that the accidents in question were, in fact, non-preventable. Similarly, the FMCSA recently implemented its Crash Preventability Demonstration Program, which allows carriers to file requests to have certain types of non-preventable accidents (e.g., animal strikes) removed from their SMS accounts so that they don't weigh on their Crash Indicator scores.

Do DOT-recordable accidents require drug and alcohol testing?

Whether or not an accident is recordable can have some bearing on whether the commercial driver involved must submit to a post-accident DOT drug and alcohol test. As a preliminary matter, the FMCSA's drug/alcohol testing regulations only apply to drivers who operate vehicles or combinations that require a commercial driver's license (CDL), which generally encompasses those that exceed 26,000 lbs., that are designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, or that haul placardable quantities of hazmat. Drivers that operate vehicles that do not require a CDL are not subject to the federal drug/alcohol testing requirements, and, therefore, are not required to be tested following a recordable accident.

For CDL drivers, a recordable accident will necessitate post-accident drug and alcohol testing if:

  • The accident involves a fatality; or

  • The commercial driver is cited for a moving violation in connection with an accident involving either an injury to any person that requires immediate medical attention away from the scene or disabling damage to any vehicle that requires it to be towed.


Motor carriers have a regulatory obligation to keep track of their recordable accidents on an accident register. Moreover, those types of accidents have a potential impact on the carrier's safety rating and Crash Indicator BASIC score. For these reasons, it's important that carriers take care to collect and retain all the required information on any such accidents and to work with drivers on ways to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future.

For in-depth driver and safety manager training on topics like recordable accidents, driver qualification, hours-of-service, drug/alcohol testing, CSA and SMS, and much more, be sure to check out the industry-leading online compliance courses offered through our Trucksafe Academy!


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