Bus and Motor Coach Library

Regulatory Compliance 

Author -Matt Daecher, Daecher Consulting Group (2005)

Regulatory compliance in the passenger transportation industry garners much attention.  I reason it's because regulation is something that almost every passenger transportation company has in common.  For larger operators, regulatory issues are mainly a common gripe - they usually have learned over time through education, networking and audit processes what they have to do to comply with many regulatory burdens and have developed processes to meet the requirements.  For new operators, smaller companies, or operations where new services offered (larger vehicles) come with new regulatory requirements, regulations may be vague or unknown.  Fear may arise from this lack of knowledge and understanding and not having staff or processes to manage compliance.  Regardless of size, most companies are not in complete compliance with all regulations which are applicable to them.   While Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) are widely known and complied with, there are other regulations and regulatory agencies usually overlooked, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  In this article, we'll review important regulations from each agency which affect passenger transportation operations.

Let me preface this regulatory review with a cautionary statement:  An entire article could be written on the specifics of each regulation/regulatory area I'm going to cover, so to truly understand and comply with the regulations, you'll have to do some additional homework. 

We'll begin with the FMCSRs.  These regulations get the most attention from carriers for the simple fact that they are designed specifically for the commercial vehicle industry.  OSHA and EPA regulations are applicable to many different types of companies/operations, while the FMCSRs are applicable only to operations where commercial vehicles are in use.  These also are the regulations you are most likely to be audited on and which most directly affect your position on the USDOT Safety Rating scale.  Now, a quick caveat regarding the FMCSRs:  Federal regulations apply only to interstate carriers - that is carriers who conduct business across state lines.  If you only operate within your home state, you are considered an intrastate carrier. 

What if you do both?  The only way to properly answer this question is without any shades of gray - if you operate one interstate trip, you are an interstate carrier and thus consider all the FMCSRs applicable to you and your operation.  On the other hand, being designated an (con’t on page 30) intrastate carrier means that you will have state motor carrier safety regulations to comply with instead of Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.  Instead of re-writing a complex regulatory agenda, many states have chosen to simply adopt the majority of the  FMCSRs, meaning that your regulatory compliance duties will be very similar to the interstate carrier across town. 

            1. There are many FMCSRs, and, while compliance with all them is important from a liability standpoint, there are specific regulations that can get you into big trouble during audits and investigations.  I'll cover these regulations, which can be grouped into four major categories - drug and alcohol testing, driver qualification, hours of service, and vehicle maintenance.  Commercial carriers are required to have a drug and alcohol program in place for any CDL-licensed driver operating a commercial vehicle.  Drug and alcohol regulations require that carriers implement a drug and alcohol policy (which must contain minimum specific criteria), disseminate that policy to each driver, and comply with the provisions of that policy.  Testing requirements include: pre-employment, random, post-accident, reasonable suspicion, and return to duty/follow-up.  Pre-employment drug screening must be performed, and a negative result received, prior to using any driver for the first time in your operation.  Random drug and alcohol testing must be conducted for all CDL-licensed drivers.  Required random test rates (percentage of average number of drivers during the calendar year) for drug and alcohol are based on the calendar year.  Currently, 50% of drivers must be randomly tested for controlled substances and 10% tested for alcohol.  Post-accident drug and alcohol testing is required when a vehicle is involved in a DOT-defined accident and the driver is cited in connection with the accident.  If there is a fatality involved in the accident, the driver must be tested regardless of whether a citation was issued.  Post-accident tests must be conducted within specific time frames and documentation is required if testing is not completed as required.  Reasonable suspicion drug and/or alcohol testing is conducted when the employer has reasonable suspicion to believe that a driver is under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.  Reasonable suspicion testing may only be conducted following the observance of characteristics of substance or alcohol abuse by a properly trained and qualified employee.  Return to duty and follow-up drug and alcohol tests are conducted after a positive test result by an employee and the employee undergoes mandatory evaluation by a Substance Abuse Professional (SAP).   Specimen collections and tests must be conducted in specific manners and by approved laboratories.

            2. Properly qualifying drivers according to the FMCSRs is accomplished during the initial hire phase, after which driver qualifications must be maintained on an annual basis. The driver qualification process includes obtaining background information on drivers, beginning with obtaining a fully completed application which should contain specific inquiries and information as dictated by the regulations.  Previous employment verifications and employer inquiries regarding drug and alcohol test results and DOT-accidents are required of any previous employer for whom the applicant drove a commercial vehicle within three years previous to the application date.  These previous employer inquiries must be properly documented.  A road test covering specific areas of commercial vehicle operation (at a minimum) in the type of vehicle the driver will be operating must be administered and documented by the carrier.  A certificate of road test must also be issued and maintained as part of this driver qualification process.  In lieu of conducting the road test and issuing the certificate, a carrier may accept a copy of a state issued CDL license including proper endorsements where a road test was required for issuance in the type of vehicle the carrier intends the driver to operate.  Drivers must also be medically qualified to operate a commercial vehicle prior to their initial assignment, as evidenced by the issuance of a medical certificate by a licensed medical practitioner following a medical exam which meets regulatory specifications.  Finally, a driver abstract (motor vehicle record/MVR) must be obtained and reviewed by the carrier to verify that they have not committed any disqualifying offenses.  After complying with these qualification processes initially, a carrier must maintain the qualification of each driver by obtaining an annual certifications/listing of violations, obtaining an annual MVR, and obtaining renewed medical certificates and copies of the drivers valid CDL as necessary.  All of the documents/items obtained during the qualification processes should be maintained in a driver qualification file.  There are also specific recordkeeping requirements relevant to the various materials obtained during the qualification processes.

            3. Hours of service is the next FMCSR regulatory area we'll cover - this involves time limitations on when a driver may operate a commercial vehicle.  The regulations in this area revolve around maximum driving time allowable and maintaining records of on-duty and driving time.  For passenger transportation operations, regulations do not permit drivers to operate a commercial vehicle for more than 10 hours in a day/duty period.  After driving for 10 hours, an operator must have a minimum eight hours off duty before he/she can drive a commercial vehicle again.  Sleeper berths, common in the trucking industry, can also be used to 'split' the required time off, however, sleeper berths installed and used must meet specific regulatory requirements.  Also, a driver may not operate a commercial vehicle after having been on duty for 14 hours or for 70 hours over the previous eight days.  On-duty includes any time/work for which a person is compensated, whether driving or not.  There are some limited exceptions to these rules.  What these rules mean for carriers is that there must a process in place to monitor driving and on-duty hours (even if the duty time was performed for another employer) so that drivers are not dispatched when there are hours of service limitation conflicts.  The hours of service regulations also require drivers to complete records of duty status (commonly referred to as logs or RODS) which indicate their duty status (off-duty, sleeper berth, driving, on-duty, not driving) throughout the course of each day.  Employers/carriers are required to maintain drivers' records of duty status for six months from their execution.   Logs are not required for drivers who operate within a 100-mile air radius of their dispatch location and return to their dispatch location within 12 hours of the beginning of their duty cycle/day.  In lieu of logs, employers must maintain time records for these drivers to verify their duty status.  Drivers must maintain the previous 7 days logs/time record with them while operating a commercial vehicle.  Employers should have processes in place to insure that drivers are completing logs properly and truthfully and not violating hours of service regulations through some form of audit process.

            4. Vehicle maintenance regulations are covered in part 396 of the FMCSRs.  In overview, these regulations require carriers to have a documented systematic maintenance program for performing regular maintenance on their vehicles.  This is generally accomplished through documentation of a preventative maintenance program.  In addition, drivers are required to perform pre and post inspections of vehicles, documenting the post trip inspection by completing a vehicle inspection report (commonly referred to a Driver Vehicle Inspection Report/DVIR).  Completed DVIRs must be maintained by the carrier for at least 90 days.  Items/issues noted on DVIRs must be reviewed and corrected by mechanics.  Vehicles with reported safety issues are forbidden to be used until inspected by a mechanic.  Documented annual inspections are required which must cover specific areas of the vehicle as noted in the regulations.  In lieu of conducting your own annual inspections, some state inspection programs qualify/substitute for the carrier's required annual inspection, though you must maintain documentation of successful completion of the inspection.  Mechanics performing the annual/periodic inspections must be properly qualified by meeting criteria listed in the regulations.  Likewise, mechanics that service air brake-equipped vehicles must also meet specific qualification criteria and documentation on mechanic qualifications must be maintained by the carrier.  Finally, as with all FMCSRs, there are retention and recordkeeping requirements which carriers must follow.
            As stated before, there are plenty of other FMCSRs not mentioned above, such as mandatory minimum levels of insurance for various types of operators, which are also important for carriers to comply with. 

            5. Now we'll move onto to regulatory requirements which are usually less familiar to operators and, by the nature of the business, garner less attention than the FMCSRs.  OSHA stands for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration which is responsible for setting and enforcing workplace safety standards/regulations.  OSHA regulations are numerous indeed, however, they enact regulations for all industries, so they have many which are not particularly relevant to the passenger transportation industry.  That said, there are a number of regulations which are applicable to this industry which operators should be aware of and comply with.  Without knowing what the hazards to your employees are, you have no way of protecting them from these hazards.  With that in mind, OSHA requires employers to conduct job hazard analyses (JHAs) for various positions in their workplace.  The ultimate purpose in conducting JHAs is to identify what types of personal protective equipment (PPE) are necessary to protect workers from known hazards.  Of course, JHAs and their findings must be documented, and, after conducting JHAs, appropriate PPE should be provided to employees to protect them from the identified hazards.  In addition to supplying the PPE, employers must also provide (and document) training on use of the PPE to relevant employees.  In transportation operations, the three key positions for which JHAs should be conducted are mechanics, cleaners and drivers.  A JHA should be conducted for each task an employee is reasonably anticipated to conduct (brake change, welding, lavatory dumping, loading luggage, fueling, etc). 

            6. OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard (HCS/HazCom/Right to Know) deals with chemicals and hazardous materials in the workplace.  This regulatory standard is based on the concept that employees have both a need and a right to know the hazards and the identities of the chemicals they are exposed to when working. They also need to know what protective measures are available to prevent adverse effects from occurring.  While the regulation can have differing requirements for different industries, there are basically three steps required of passenger carrier operations to comply with the HCS: development of a written plan, inventory of chemicals and acquisition of chemical information sheets, and employee training.  Each carrier must have a written Hazard Communication plan which describes how the standard will be implemented in that facility along with a list of the chemicals present at the site, who is responsible for the various aspects of the program in that facility, and where written materials (MSDSs) will be made available to employees. The written program should describe how the requirements for labels and other forms of warning, material safety data sheets, and employee information and training are going to be met in the facility.  To establish the written plan, a list of workplace chemicals must be inventoried and a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for each inventoried chemical obtained.  The MSDS provides detailed information regarding many aspects of each chemical.  This inventory and the related MSDSs should be updated annually.  Finally, training must be provided (and documented) to employees prior to their initial assignment regarding the location of chemicals and hazardous materials in the workplace, location of MSDSs, container labeling requirements, and PPE to use and/or cautionary measures to take to minimize danger of chemicals and hazards in the workplace.  Training may be tailored to the type of employee and chemicals they could potentially come into contact with. 

            7. The next OSHA regulation passenger carriers should be aware of is the Bloodborne Pathogen (BBP) Standard/regulation.  The intent of this regulation is to limit occupational exposure to blood and other potentially infectious materials since any exposure could result in transmission of bloodborne pathogens which could lead to disease or death.  While the standard is most applicable to the medical industry, it is nonetheless also applicable to passenger carrier operations.  Similar to the HCS, there are multiple steps operators need to take to comply with the standard:  develop a written plan, take steps to protect employees, and train affected employees with regards to the standard.  The written Exposure Control Plan requires employers to identify, in writing, tasks and procedures as well as job classifications where occupational exposure to blood or other potentially infectious materials occurs--without regard to personal protective equipment. The plan, which must be reviewed and updated at least annually, must also specify the procedures in the event an exposure occurs/is reported, and must be accessible to employees.  In most passenger transportation operations, employees wouldn't be considered to have reasonably anticipated exposure to blood, though they may be exposed to indistinguishable body fluids/substances which could contain blood and therefore must be treated as an 'other infectious material' (in particular, interior cleaners and any personnel who dump lavatory tanks).  Employees must be trained prior to initial assignment, and annually thereafter, on BBPs and various elements of the company Exposure Control Plan.  Carriers must provide appropriate PPE and instruction on proper PPE use and clean-up methods to minimize BBP exposure risk when dealing with blood or other infectious materials.  

            8. Emergency Action Plans (EAP) are another OSHA regulatory requirement which almost every business needs to comply with, including passenger transportation operations.  This regulation calls for a written plan which should include evacuation procedures and emergency escape route assignments, procedures to account for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed, and requirements/processes for reporting fires and other emergencies. Employees must be trained in elements of the emergency action plan applicable to them.  Their training should include the proper use of portable fire extinguishers and should, of course, be properly documented. 
            9.  The last OSHA topic we'll cover isn't a single standard/regulation; rather, I'll point out additional common workplace/equipment safety regulations which are generally applicable to passenger transportation facilities.  The following are all processes/equipment/facilities common to carrier operations which are regulated by OSHA and should be periodically reviewed for compliance: OSHA injury     (con’t on page 34)   log recordkeeping/reporting; lockout/tagout program & procedures; machine guarding; power tool and cord conditions; ladder/scaffolding conditions; number, location and servicing of fire extinguishers; service pit design and fall protection; vehicle lift inspection/maintenance; irrigable eyewash facilities; bench grinder location and tool rest adjustment; emergency exit lighting; storage of flammables; electrical panel access; storage of compressed gas cylinders; tire mounting/servicing; and number of functional restroom facilities.  Depending on the extent of your maintenance operation and other equipment, you're operation may be subject to additional OSHA regulations such as respirators, paint/spray booth design and powered industrial trucks (forklifts).

            10. The last stop on our regulatory agency tour brings us to the Environmental Protection Agency.  EPA regulations applicable to passenger carrier operations revolve mainly around the use, storage and disposal of petroleum based products and the potential for these products to contaminate water and soil.  Proper disposal of lavatory waste from lavatory-equipped coaches is also a regulated area.  In summary, the EPA regulations require specific processes and appropriate facilities to be in place to prevent unnecessary contamination of natural resources.  Used petroleum products should be disposed of by a properly licensed contractor.   Underground storage tanks must be monitored and tested for leaks.  A Storm Water Pollution Protection Plan (SWPPP) should be drafted to review risks associated with storm water contamination and the runoff of any contaminated storm water and detail carrier efforts/safeguards in place to prevent contaminated runoff from contaminating the ground and waterways. The complexity of the SWPPP depends largely on the layout and condition of your facilities.  Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plans must be drafted for facilities that store aggregate amounts of petroleum-based products which exceed specified levels (1320 gallons above ground; 42,000 gallons below ground) and have the potential to discharge to navigable waters/storm sewers/sewer systems.  SPCC plans are site-specific and must be certified by a professional engineer.  Lavatory waste must be disposed of properly into sewer/waste treatment systems, meaning that your operation must have proper facilities which meet this requirement if you plan on emptying lavatories at the terminal.

            It's a regulatory jungle out there for carriers, filled with a lot of intimidating words and acronyms.  Achieving compliance in all areas will take time, manpower and other resources.  Consistent determination to be a top-notch organization and avoiding complacency along the way will help you achieve and maintain a safer operation and workplace environment.  State, regional and national bus associations are good sources of information for when you get dizzy trying to actually understand any regulation mumbo-jumbo - chances are you are a member of one and they can help you with some needed interpretation.  Beware of generic compliance seminars - I'm not saying they can't be helpful, but they may be too broad to focus on your type of operation and, even within the transportation industry, may focus more on regulations applicable to truck operations than passenger carriers.