As a way of increasing safety on the roads, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) conducts regular inspections on commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). During these inspections, part of the DOT mandate is to confirm that all parts and components of the motor vehicles are in good working condition.
You may be aware of and familiar with this process as a truck owner or operator, but do you know how to prepare yourself and your equipment for these necessary audits?
Who Takes Part in DOT Truck Inspections?
The onus of conducting the safety checks remains with each state’s DOT, but other groups and organisations play a role in making the process successful.
Here is a list of the organisations that work together to keep motor carriers and their drivers compliant with the CMV laws and regulations:
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)
This department under the DOT provides funding for and oversees all motor vehicle and driver inspections.
These are a special group of officers for each state who also have the authority to perform inspections on carriers and drivers.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA)
The CVSA is a non-profit organization that developed the criteria for the North American Standard Inspection program, which includes CMV inspections.
Levels of Truck Inspections
The North American Standard Inspection Program, on which the US DOT Inspection is based, consists of six levels of inspections that are performed on a vehicle or driver to ensure that all laws and regulations are adhered to. While Levels I, II, III and V may be common and Level I more frequent, it is impossible to know what level will be inspected when your vehicle gets stopped. It is therefore important to familiarize yourself with the modalities of all six.
Level I: North American Standard Inspection
This happens to be the most thorough inspection because the officer checks the entire vehicle (tractor and trailer) for worn-out or damaged parts. They will examine the braking system, lighting, tires, battery, securement of cargo, among other things on the vehicle. The driver will also be examined for signs of alcohol and drug consumption, seat belt use and possession of proper and up-to-date documentation. Should any violation be found, the officer can place the commercial motor vehicle out of service (OOS).
Level II: Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection
This inspection is similar to that conducted on Level 1, only that the inspecting officer doesn’t check components that require them to get underneath the vehicle. For Level 2, the officer only walks around the vehicle to look for anything operating incorrectly, after which the driver’s paperwork and credentials are inspected for any irregularities.
Level III: Driver-Only Inspection
At Level III, the focus is solely on the driver’s credentials and paperwork. To be always ready for this inspection, the CMV driver should keep the following records current:
Driving License for CMV
Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR)
Electronic logging device (ELD)
Record of Duty Status (RODS)
Hours of Service (HOS)
Level IV: Special Inspections
Level IV inspections are not as common. They are usually conducted as a one-time inspection of a particular item (such as driver documentation or the vehicle’s engine or any other component) for research purposes.
Level V: Vehicle-Only Inspection
Level V inspection is similar to Level III only that, instead of the driver, it is only the vehicle that will be inspected. The criterion used is like that in Level I but with no driver present. Most often, Level V inspection occurs at the carrier’s location during a compliance review.
Level VI: Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments
A Level VI Inspection is specific to CMVs that ship highway route controlled quantities (HRCQ) of radiological cargo (could be hazardous freight, medical waste or nuclear material). This level includes inspection procedures, enhanced OOS criteria, radiological requirements and several adjustments to a Level I inspection.
How Does a Roadside Check Go?
While on the road, your CMV can be pulled over anywhere by a DOT officer or state trooper, meaning you should always be prepared. The driver is expected to act in a professional manner throughout the process. The inspection officer remains alert right from when you stop and open your door.
How you carry yourself as the driver when the inspection officer approaches along with how well you maintain the inside of the truck can determine the level of inspection you’ll be subjected to.
Outcome of Roadside Inspection
For every time a vehicle is stopped for inspection, there are three possible outcomes:
No violations are found
In the event that no violation is found both with the vehicle and the driver, the inspection official will place a CVSA decal (valid for up to three months) on the vehicle to show that they have both passed the inspection. A CMV bearing a valid decal will not be pulled over for another inspection easily, unless there is a glaring problem.
Minor violations are found but aren’t serious
Sometimes on inspection the officer may find something that the driver or vehicle is in violation of, but the problem isn’t severe enough to place either OOS. The vehicle can still be allowed to operate, but the violations will still count against the carrier (or possibly the driver) and can impact the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores.
In such instances, repairs or any other recommended corrective action will be expected within 15 days of the inspection, and the carrier must send a duly signed report to the FMCSA declaring all repairs or recommended adjustments were completed within the specified timeframe.
Vehicle or driver is placed OOS
Placing a vehicle Out Of Service (OOS) indicates a serious violation of the DOT Compliance regulations that ultimately poses a danger to other motorists. An OOS vehicle or driver is not allowed to operate again until after all violations have been corrected and documented.
Common DOT Violations
Did you know that if a driver is found in violation another driver will need to come and take over the truck? If the vehicle is the one in violation, then it will either be repaired on site or towed to a place where repairs can be done. The driver and vehicle may be found in violation for many reasons:
Common areas of DOT violations for drivers include:
Invalid or expired driving license
Expired or missing medical card
Not wearing a seatbelt
Exceeding Hours of Service (HOS) laws
For commercial motor vehicles, common violations include:
Missing current annual inspection on file
Improperly loaded cargo
Tire tread depth below recommended length (2/32 of an inch)
Oil, grease, transmission fluid or fuel leaks
Discharged, empty or unsecured fire extinguisher
Preparing for DOT Inspections
DOT inspections can be either scheduled or random. They typically last less than an hour for a CMV and driver with proper and up-to-date records and in mint conditions. The key therefore lies in regular checks and updates to remain a step ahead of the inspectors at all times.
Both drivers and carriers can use the following tips to prepare for inspections:
Familiarise yourself and understand inspection procedures. You can carry a current copy of FMCSA rules at all times.
Go through all recommended inspection processes for both vehicle and driver.
Carry all necessary and up-to-date documentation for both vehicle and driver always.
Display company name and USDOT number clearly on the truck.
Keep the equipment clean, inside and outside.
Secure shipments on the vehicle properly.
Conduct a regular preventive maintenance program to keep all vehicles in mint condition.
Perform pre-trip, en route and post-trip vehicle checks to check for problems.
Maintain proper logs for each trip taken.
Keep proper records of all incidents involving vehicle or driver on the road.
The CVSA International Road Check Event
Every summer, the CVSA carries out intense truck inspections across a period of three days when DOT officers and state troopers stop and examine hundreds of vehicles and drivers on the roads for violations. The event’s purpose is to encourage and promote safety for commercial drivers and all the commercial motor vehicles in operation. Since the very first event, more than 1.5 million roadside checks have been conducted in North America.
Commercial Trucking Compliance has over 65 years combined experience in the Industry, with experience in enforcement and also with helping the commercial motor carriers to comply with both state and federal regulations. Our experience and knowledge is vast and will keep your fleet in tiptop shape at all times and make sure you are also up to speed with any new changes to the system. In addition, we could train your staff and ensure their readiness for DOT inspections (whether spot or scheduled). Our services around DOT Compliance are top-notch and will leave you at peace knowing that both your fleet and your team are in great hands!