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What is a DOT-Recordable Accident?

In addition to the penalties that come with individual traffic offenses, most states maintain a point system for keeping track of problem drivers. If you get one speeding ticket, for instance, you pay a fine and receive "points" on your license.

But if you rack up a certain amount of points within a given period of time, you may have your license suspended or revoked. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains a similar system to track the safety records of companies that employ commercial drivers (typically referred to as motor carriers).

This article explains what a DOT-recordable accident is, how it must be recorded and maintained by carriers, and how the federal government uses this data to determine a carrier's safety rating.

DOT-Recordable Accidents at a Glance

Specifically, the federal Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees the FMCSA, requires motor carriers to follow certain procedures for keeping track of serious accidents involving commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). An accident that meets the DOT's criteria for getting recorded is known as a "DOT-recordable" accident.

Since most carriers operate across state lines or otherwise affect commerce in more than one state, the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government jurisdiction over these matters.

Carriers must maintain certain records related to the accident for three years. The DOT uses this data to determine the number of such accidents per 1 million miles driven. Carriers are rated and, if they surpass a certain threshold, may face sanctions and extra scrutiny.

Definition of a DOT-Recordable Accident

The definition of a DOT-recordable accident and the rules for recording them are encoded in §390.15 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). If an accident involving a CMV, a motor vehicle with seating to transport 9 passengers, or any motor vehicle displaying a hazardous materials placard, regardless of weight, results in any of the following, it must be recorded on an accident register:

  1. Fatality;
  2. Bodily injury in which that person receives immediate medical attention away from the scene of the accident; or
  3. At least one of the vehicles involved in the accident had to be towed from the scene

The DOT does not consider fault or preventability with respect to DOT-recordable accidents.

Rules for Record-Keeping

DOT-recordable accidents must be recorded in an accident register with the following information (at minimum):

  • Date of the accident
  • City (or nearest city) and state where the accident occurred
  • Name of the driver
  • Number of injuries
  • Number of fatalities
  • Whether the accident resulted in the release of any hazardous materials (excluding fuel from the vehicle's fuel tank)
  • Copies of all accident reports required by state (or other governmental) entities or insurers

This information must be maintained for three years and made available to any FMCSA agent, authorized state or local enforcement agency representative, or authorized third party. The regulation also requires carriers to assist in any investigation of these records.

How This Information is Used

The DOT determines a carrier's accident frequency by multiplying the number of DOT-recordable accidents by 1 million and then dividing that number by the number of miles driven in the past 12 months. The resulting number is used as the basis for the carrier's safety rating in an audit. Carriers with only one DOT-recordable accident in the last 12 months are not subject to this calculation, given the small sample size.

FMCSA officials use a complex methodology for determining a carrier's Safety Fitness Determination (SFD) using six different rating factors, including impaired driving violations and hours-of-service compliance. DOT-recordable accident rates comprise factor no. 6. Carriers with a rate greater than 1.5 accidents per million miles (1.7 for urban carriers) will receive an "unsatisfactory" rating and two or more "points" added to their safety rating.

Any carrier that receives an overall "unsatisfactory" SFD will face sanctions and restrictions, including a prohibition on transporting hazardous materials or more than 15 passengers. Those given notice of a pending "conditional" rating are given 45 days for passenger carriers or hazardous material carriers and 60 days for all other carriers before it becomes official.

Carriers also may petition for a review of the ratings if they have factual or procedural disputes with how it was calculated.

Have Questions About DOT-Recordable Accidents? Speak to a Lawyer

While DOT-recordable accidents are factored into a carrier's overall safety rating and can be used as evidence in personal injury cases concerning automotive accidents with commercial vehicles. Individual drivers may have questions or concerns regarding a particular incident.

If you need legal help after a car accident, it's best to speak with an experienced car accident attorney near you today.

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