Trucking News Online

FMCSA Compliance Doesn’t Always Add Up to Trucking Safety

October 20, 2016 By: Chris Tanke, HNI Tags: Blogs, Regulations, Safety

In some trucking companies, the words safety and compliance are used interchangeably. The line that divides these two areas has been further blurred as focus has been placed on CSA numbers by federal regulators.

But you shouldn’t be fooled by simply complying with the FMCSA in order to boost your safety performance.

What is Compliance?

Compliance consists of following the letter and spirit of the laws as set forth by the FMCSA. As most people know, drug testing, driver logs, crashes, maintenance and driver files are all areas involved in compliance. CSA numbers, inspections and audits are the tools used by the FMCSA to identify offenders and ensure compliance in those regulatory areas.

While compliance is very important, I would argue that they are, in essence, “table stakes” in the game of trucking risk. “Table stakes” are the minimums required to play in the game — but nothing more. The areas monitored by CSA can definitely point to warning signs of risk but they don’t necessarily do all that is necessary to prevent accidents and injuries. For example, just because a driver is legal on hours of service doesn’t mean that he is not driving tired, distracted or impaired. An expertise in compliance doesn’t necessarily equate to an expertise in safety.

What is Safety?

In my opinion, safety is the art of actively preventing crashes and injuries through a mix of risk identification and prevention. A true safety department has an established plan to reduce and eliminate unsafe acts and conditions from the workplace. A strong safety program is one of the key components of the best-in class-truckers who consistently out-perform the industry in loss dollars paid.

Believe it or not, safety at these best-in-class truckers is not a top priority. These companies understand that priorities can change throughout the day, week or year. Safety for yourself and others is not something that should ever be compromised based on circumstance.

Instead, these leading companies have safety as a core value, which is something very different than most. A core value won’t change — regardless of the circumstances of the day or situation. The culture of the organization that holds this value allows employees to consistently make safe decisions and know they will be celebrated for it.

Which one should you focus on?

So, in the ever-demanding day-to-day world of trucking, should a CEO focus on safety or compliance? I would suggest that it’s necessary to be top notch at both. Safety and compliance can work together to create a culture of strong values. For example, CSA metrics can be utilized at part of an analysis as a leading indicator of risk. The FMCSA claims the CSA numbers the crash indicator, unsafe driving, and hours of service compliance show the strongest crash risk.

In the end, being best in class in both safety and compliance will probably give your company a strong leg up on being best in class for profit.

About the Author: Chris Tanke is vice president of relationships at HNI, a non-traditional insurance and business advisory firm that specializes in the transportation industry. Tanke has a wealth of experience in helping transportation firms manage their total cost of risk. Read more of his posts on HNI’s blog:


  1. Paul Carlson October 20, 2016 at 9:34 pm

    Safety begins with instructing your drivers in the DEFENSIVE art of driving. Instead of panic, reacting intelligently to possible detrimental situations. En Largess, classes are taught in COMPLIANCE. Paperwork, some maintenance,insurance. Work procedures, so forth. Evidenced daily is the lack, either of the instruction of Defensive driving, OR the failure of the driver to adapt to this form of driving. Once the DESIRE to properly work COMPLIANCE and Safety into their routine is when you start see improvement in drivers.