An earlier FreightWaves Classics article provided an overview of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). One of its key agencies is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA. 

The FMCSA is the lead federal agency responsible for “regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).” The agency’s mission is to reduce/prevent commercial motor vehicle-related fatalities and injuries.

Partnering with industry, state and local governments and safety advocates, FMCSA works to keep U.S. roadways safe while improving CMV safety through regulation, education, enforcement, research and technology.

FMCSA has approximately 1,100 employees around the U.S. At this time, the position of Administrator of FMCSA is vacant. However, Meera Joshi is the Deputy Administrator.

Unidentified trucks on highway (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Key priorities

USDOT and FMCSA have three top priorities:

Safety – Keeping traveling Americans safe
Innovation – Engaging with emerging technologies
Infrastructure – Upgrading the nation’s infrastructure

FMCSA history

Congress passed the Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act of 1999, which transferred FMCSA from being within the Federal Highway Administration (another USDOT agency) to a separate agency on January 1, 2000. According to its website, the agency’s activities “contribute to ensuring safety in motor carrier operations through strong enforcement of safety regulations; targeting high-risk carriers and commercial motor vehicle drivers; improving safety information systems and commercial motor vehicle technologies; strengthening commercial motor vehicle equipment and operating standards; and increasing safety awareness.” 

Containers on trucks. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Among the agency’s activities are the following:

Commercial Drivers’ Licenses – FMCSA develops the standards used to test and license commercial motor vehicle drivers.
Data and analysis – FMCSA collects and disseminates data on motor carrier safety and directs resources to improve motor carrier safety.
Regulatory compliance/enforcement – The agency operates a program to improve safety performance and remove high-risk carriers from U.S. highways.
Research and technology – FMCSA coordinates R&D to improve motor carrier operations and commercial motor vehicles and drivers.
Safety assistance – FMCSA provides states with financial assistance for roadside inspections and other commercial motor vehicle safety programs. Doing so promotes motor vehicle and motor carrier safety.

DOT budget emphasizes enhancing roadside safety. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

FMCSA programs

FMCSA leads a wide array of programs targeted at the trucking industry, drivers with CDLs and the public, including those featured below. 

Compliance, Safety, Accountability 

FMCSA enforces compliance with commercial motor vehicle safety regulations through a variety of measures including the Safety Measurement System (SMS). SMS is the agency’s performance-based method to focus its resources on the carriers that carry the highest risks. 

More test failures likely to show up in Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse 

The Clearinghouse went online on January 1, 2020. It is a secure online database that provides employers, the FMCSA, state driver licensing agencies (SDLAs), and state law enforcement personnel real-time information about CDL and commercial learner’s permit (CLP) holders’ drug and alcohol program violations. An act of Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to establish the Clearinghouse.

The Clearinghouse maintains records of drug and alcohol program violations in a central repository. It can be accessed by employers to check whether current and/or prospective employees have incurred a drug or alcohol violation that would prohibit them from operating a commercial vehicle. 

Hazardous Materials Program 

This FMCSA program ensures compliance with hazardous materials regulations. The program also provides industry information, training, and education on hazardous materials transportation safety, regulations and emergency response. 

Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Program 

The FMCSA is responsible for “establishing national standards for testing, licensing and disqualifying commercial drivers and ensures that only qualified drivers are eligible to receive and retain a CDL.” 

Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program 

FMCSA provides financial assistance to states by sponsoring their CMV enforcement efforts. The purpose of the program is to reduce the number and severity of accidents involving commercial vehicles.

Drivers and their trucks. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

New Entrant Program 

Prior to beginning interstate operations, CMV operators are required to register with FMCSA. The program also requires new entrants undergo a safety audit and monitoring for the first 18 months.

Military Driver Program

FMCSA has programs that make it easier, quicker and less expensive for experienced military drivers to transition to civilian transportation careers and obtain CDLs.

Protect Your Move 

This program is focused on the interstate movement of household goods by carriers that specialize in that area. The program educates consumers on household goods moving fraud  and how to research interstate moving companies using FMCSA resources. 

Other activities

FMCSA supports the development and use of unified motor carrier safety requirements and procedures throughout North America. The agency participates in international technical organizations to help share motor carrier safety best practices.