What are the three safety ratings a motor carrier can get?

Motor carriers are subject to a lot of regulations, something that anyone who’s spent in the trucking world knows all too well. The FMCSA regulates commercial motor vehicles, and motor carriers have to comply with relevant laws and regulations. A lot of questions can come out of these regulations, and one question motor carriers might be is what safety ratings from on-site investigations are and what they mean. We’ll explain.

When does a motor carrier get a safety rating?

A motor carrier can get a safety rating after an on-site investigation at their location, meaning that safety ratings are assigned based on the results of the latest on-site investigation. (The rating can be updated by the FMCSA if the motor carrier is successful after an administrative review proceeding. The motor carrier can request that the FMCSA upgrade their rating by taking the corrective action that is required of them.)

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What are the safety ratings that a motor carrier could receive?

There are three different safety ratings a motor carrier could get: Satisfactory, Conditional, and Unsatisfactory. They all mean different things, but here is a basic overview of what each of these ratings indicates.


A motor carrier can get a Satisfactory rating after an on-site investigation that proves that they have safety measures that are in line with the safety fitness standard according to 49 CFR 385.

Note that a motor carrier can only get a Satisfactory safety rating from an on-site investigation (i.e. a compliance review) that looked at the entire safety picture presented by the business. The investigation is thorough and looks at how the business complies with the safety fitness standards laid out in 49 CFR 385. (We’ll explain the different types of on-site investigation and which can lead to a Satisfactory rating in a moment.)


One of the three safety ratings – and perhaps the least intuitively named – is called Conditional. A rating of Conditional means that a motor carrier had an on-site investigation that showed they did not have sufficient safety measures, but they have not yet violated the safety fitness standard.


An Unsatisfactory rating means that the motor carrier had an on-site investigation showing that management controls are not sufficient and that there have been violations of the safety fitness standard. If a motor carrier has a final Unsatisfactory rating, it cannot operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce.

What are the different types of on-site investigation?

There are different types of on-site investigations, and the type of investigation can affect the rating a motor carrier is able to get. There is an on-site focused investigation and an on-site comprehensive investigation. (The BASICs, or Behavioral Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories, are used to prioritize carriers for investigation and intervention.) Here’s what each of these investigations involves.

On-site focused investigation:

An on-site focused investigation targets specific areas of the BASICs. A focused investigation cannot result in a Satisfactory rating because not all aspects of the motor carrier are examined. An onsite focused investigation could end up with the motor carrier receiving no rating, but it also could result in a Conditional or Unsatisfactory rating if the investigation uncovers any issues.

On-site comprehensive investigation:

An on-site comprehensive investigation is an intervention that looks at all aspects of the carrier. This type of investigation can result in the motor carrier getting a Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory rating. (While an on-site focused investigation can only result in Conditional or Unsatisfactory rating, an onsite comprehensive investigation can allow a motor carrier to get a Satisfactory rating.)

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So, that’s an overview of what the three safety ratings that a motor carrier can get: Unsatisfactory, Conditional, or Satisfactory. There are a couple different types of on-site investigations (focused and comprehensive), but only the comprehensive on-site investigation can lead to a Satisfactory rating. (The Satisfactory rating has to be earned from a thorough, complete investigation of all aspects of a motor carrier’s safety situation.) These investigations show how important safety is for motor carriers, and by familiarizing themselves with safety regulations, motor carriers can do well with investigations and step up their safety game.

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