Operating a trucking company typically means covering a lot of variables, from vehicle depreciation and traffic jams to driver sick days, broken-down equipment, conflicts with business partners and everything in between.
One thing fleet managers definitely cannot afford to overlook in this list of responsibilities is the importance of DOT inspections. What do fleet managers need to know about DOT inspections, and how can they prepare for the next one before it arrives?
What Are DOT Inspections?
First, what are DOT inspections, and why are they so important?
State troopers or other enforcers, working under the authority of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) carry out surprise roadside inspections to ensure both truck and driver are in good working order.
The goal of these inspections is to keep truckers and other motor vehicle operators safe on the road. An inspector is tasked with determining whether a truck and its driver are following all of the applicable rules and regulations designed to prevent oversights and accidents.
The Six Levels of DOT Inspection
There are six levels of DOT inspection a truck and its operator may be subject to. Which one is carried out depends largely on the whims of the inspector. Drivers will never know what level of inspection to expect until they’re stopped, so it’s essential to be familiar with all six.
Level 1 inspections are as comprehensive as they are commonly performed. There are 37 steps to complete for a Level 1 inspection, assessing both the driver and the vehicle as well as addressing the presence of any illegal cargo.
All of the truck’s systems will be inspected, from the brakes and electrical to the steering, seatbelts, and everything in between. The driver will also be assessed to determine whether they’re under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Level 2 inspections are nearly as thorough as Level 1, though inspectors are not required to go underneath the vehicle to ascertain its condition. The driver assessment to look for the presence of drugs and alcohol remains the same, however.
Level 3 DOT inspections focus solely on the driver. The inspector will review all pertinent paperwork, such as driver’s license, medical examiner’s certificates, and skill performance evaluations, to determine whether the driver is in compliance with all applicable FMCSA regulations.
As with the first two levels, the driver will also be assessed to determine if they are under the influence of alcohol or another controlled substance.
Level 4 inspections are not as common as some of the others, since they’re used for one-time examinations. They’re useful for tracking violation trends or other data, and they often don’t take up a lot of time for either the driver or the inspector.
Level 5 inspections are the same as Level 1 inspections with one major caveat: the truck is the only thing being inspected. The driver does not even have to be present for this level of inspection, which frees them up to perform other tasks while their vehicle is being inspected.
Level 6 inspections are only necessary for vehicles tasked with hauling radioactive materials. The Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments is the same as the standard Level 1 inspection, but it pays special attention to any radiological emissions.
Once the truck and driver have passed inspection, the truck is marked with a clearly visible nuclear symbol that is removed once the delivery reaches its destination.
Preparing Vehicles for a DOT Inspection
Getting ready for a DOT inspection is a two-fold proposition: it involves preparing both the vehicle and the driver. First, let’s take a closer look at getting fleet vehicles ready for inspections.
By far the easiest way to pass a DOT inspection is to be prepared. This can entail but is not limited to keeping the vehicle in tip-top shape, keeping it clean, and ensuring all required and recommended maintenance is carried out in a timely manner. Understand the systems that will be inspected and address any problems promptly.
Fleet managers may wish to seek out a DOT Inspection Certification as well. While this will not prevent an inspection from occurring if there is an obvious violation to address, it can help streamline the process a little bit in some situations.
Keeping the vehicle clean may not be a requirement for DOT inspections, but it can ensure the inspector is focusing on the details of the inspection rather than becoming vexed because of the state of the truck.
Preparing Drivers for a DOT Inspection
Drivers are the other part of the equation when it comes to successfully preparing for a DOT inspection.
Driver inspections tend to require a lot of paperwork. Inspectors will go over everything from the driver’s commercial licensing, to their medical card, waivers, daily logs, and hours of service. They will also assess the drivers to see if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and will verify any HAZMAT requirements.
Start by ensuring all of the driver’s paperwork is up to date. Then keep a copy of all the necessary paperwork in a folder in the cab — as well as backups located elsewhere in case something happens to the originals. A lot of this information, such as the daily logs and hours of service, can sometimes be accessed digitally, depending on how the fleet is set up. Fleets that haven’t switched to digital data collection for hours of service and daily logs may wish to consider doing so to speed up the inspection process.
Make sure your drivers are always polite and professional when dealing with inspectors. It’s always a good idea to treat these individuals with professional courtesy, even and perhaps especially if they’re flagging a violation.
Don’t Fail an Inspection by Lacking Preparation
DOT inspections might be a hassle, but they are an unavoidable part of operating a trucking fleet. The easiest way to fail one of these inspections is to go into them entirely unprepared. As long as the fleet is operating properly, all violations are addressed as quickly as possible, and drivers and fleet managers are working to keep themselves and other drivers safe, then passing these inspections with flying colors should be easy.
They say that failing to plan is planning to fail, and that is a rule to live by when it comes to preparing for DOT inspections.