NEWS & REPORTS

Deciphering the Motor Carrier Rating: What Does It All Mean?

Jan 25, 2022 | Articles

Motor Carriers can often find themselves in a frustrating scenario trying to defend why they do not have a current “SATISFACTORY” safety rating. It is understandable to question a motor carrier’s safety rating when they are currently “CONDITIONAL” or even “UNSATISFACTORY.” However, a non-rated motor carrier is often put in a position of defense when questioned by a variety of entities, such as shippers, receivers, brokers, and even insurance providers.

John Seidl

The current rating process is outlined in 49 CFR Part 385. This rating process has been in existence before CSA was ever developed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). It dates back to the SAFESTAT days (for those of you that have been in the brokerage/motor carrier space that long). We then found our way to the Safety Measurement System (SMS) and CSA.

In moving to SMS – CSA, there was an attempt to replace the current rating process with the Carrier Safety Fitness Determination, but that has gone by the wayside. This would have eliminated an antiquated rating process and replaced it with one that would have included roadside inspection data as well as results of compliance reviews.

What we are left with is an often misunderstood process. Here is an attempt at explaining each of these ratings:

NON-RATED: Simply stated, this a carrier that has either never undergone a “FULL” FMCSA compliance review in which all parts of compliance were checked, or a “FOCUSED” review in which some parts, but not all were checked for compliance. Additionally, they could have undergone a FOCUSED review whereas nothing was found that would have resulted in a proposed Unsatisfactory or Conditional rating, as outlined in Part 385, thus resulting in being non-rated.

UNSATISFACTORY: Simply stated, this carrier would have undergone a FULL or a FOCUSED review, and the findings of that review for the carrier would have resulted in a UNSATISFACTORY rating, as outlined in Part 385. It should be noted that ratings are proposed and do not take affect for 45 days if you transport hazardous materials and 60 days if you do not transport hazardous material. Proposed UNSATISFACORY carriers must complete a 49 CFR 385.17 upgrade request prior to the 45/60 day time frame or be subject to a FMCSA Out-of-Service Order.

CONDITIONAL: Simply stated, this carrier would have undergone a FULL or a FOCUSED review, and the findings of that review for the Carrier would have resulted in a CONDITIONAL rating, as outlined in Part 385. Proposed Conditional carriers can complete a 49 CFR 385.17 upgrade request during the aforementioned timeframes, or they simply attempt to operate with this rating until which time they feel corrections have been made to warrant an upgrade.

SATISFACTORY:  Simply stated, this carrier has undergone a FULL review at some point in their history. You cannot be a SATISFACTORY carrier without having undergone a FULL review. FOCUSED reviews do not result in SATISFACTORY ratings. You can maintain a previous issued SATISFACTORY rating if you pass a FOCUSED review, but cannot be issued a new SATISFACTORY rating without a FULL review.

Let’s summarize this:

  • Carrier A has been so good that they have never undergone any FMCSA review – NON-RATED.
  • Carrier B underwent a FULL review that resulted in a Conditional Rating, completed a 385.17 upgrade request, which was subsequently approved by FMCSA – SATISFACTORY.
  • Carrier C underwent a FULL review that resulted in a UNSATISFACTORY Rating, completed a 385.17 upgrade request, subsequently approved to CONDITIONAL, then completed another 385.17 upgrade request over time, which was subsequently approved – SATISFACTORY.
  • Carrier D was Satisfactory and underwent a FOCUSED review that resulted in a CONDITIONAL Rating, completed a 385.17 upgrade request, which was subsequently approved by FMCSA – SATISFACTORY .
  • Carrier E was Non-Rated and underwent a FOCUSED review that resulted in a CONDITIONAL Rating, completed a 385.17 upgrade request, which was subsequently approved by FMCSA – NON-RATED.

Since SMS – CSA, there has been a substantial move in the types of reviews that are completed. Under SAFESTAT, the majority of the reviews were primarily FULL reviews. Under SMS – CSA, the majority of the reviews are FOCUSED. This has resulted in far fewer SATISFACTORY ratings being issued since SAFESTAT went away.

Shippers, receivers, brokers, and insurance providers have to understand that in many cases a NON-RATED motor carrier is actually better than SATISFACTORY motor carrier.

When applying this information it is important to not confuse a New Entrant Safety Audit with any of these ratings because ratings are only assigned for FULL or FOCUSED reviews as noted here, not for New Entrant Safety Audits. New Entrant Safety Audits result in Pass/Fail.

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