What Do You Do When You Receive a Warning Letter?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sends out warning letters as a way to give vehicle operators a chance to improve their safety performance and compliance without further intervention that includes investigations. At https://ai.fmcsa.dot.gov/sms/, the FMCSA will continue to monitor your safety performance and compliance through its Safety Measurement System (SMS). They encourage receivers to read their letters carefully because they identify your company’s specific safety performance and compliance problems. This also explains how to access your safety record and outlines what will happen if your company’s safety performance and compliance don’t improve.

After you receive the letter, you need to know that you do not need to respond directly. If you are a motor carrier, you should always be checking your SMS data regularly as you want to avoid the additional interventions they may throw at you if things do not improve. These interventions may result in fines and suspension or revocation of your company’s operating authority. The FMCSA organizes the SMS data into seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs), which are used to prioritize motor carriers for warning letters and other interventions. These BASICs include:

  • Unsafe Driving: Speeding, reckless driving, improper lane change, inattention, and no seatbelts
  • Crash Indicator: Histories of crash involvement that aren’t public
  • Hours of Service Compliance: Noncompliance with HOS regulations, including logbooks
  • Vehicle Maintenance: Brakes, lights, defects, failure to make required repairs
  • Controlled Substances and Alcohol: Use and possession of controlled substances and alcohol
  • Hazardous Materials Compliance: Leaking containers, improper packaging, and/or placarding not in public
  • Driver Fitness: Invalid license, medically unfit to operate a CMV

Batches of Warning Letters
In 2010, the FMCSA started distributing their initial batch of 23,000 warning letters. This was done initially as the FMCSA agency’s interventions in its new program. Boyd Stephenson, who was a manager of safety and security for American Trucking Associations, confirmed that over a matter of months, at least 50,000 warning letters would be distributed. Based on FMCSA statistics that counted 650,000 carriers, nearly 8% of carriers were set to be given warning letters.

Analyzing Data and Taking Action to Improve Safety
When somebody receives a warning letter, the first step they should take to reduce violations and improve their fleet’s standards is to determine the source of the violations. They must then tailor their response accordingly. After driver violation data is analyzed, it’s then time to take initiative and address the violations that have occurred and reduce the number of violations that occur. Interventions may be implemented and the intensity of these interventions are up to the driver and fleet managers. It all depends specifically upon the severity and number of a driver’s violations in general.

Warning letters should be taken very seriously, as the FMCSA and its state partners work vigorously to commit to safety, because lives depend on it. You can learn how to improve safety through the Safety Measurement Cycle, a diagnostic process that Safety Investigators will use to correct practices that can lead to noncompliance in each BASIC. By learning more about how to stay safe, you are helping yourself and others that you share the roads with.