There are six different Department of Transportation (DOT) inspection levels. Drivers encounter those inspections regularly at weigh stations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also carries out thorough annual inspections. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) also conducts annual road checks. This includes the inspection of all heavy vehicles across the country over a 72-hour period. The goal of these inspections is to ensure the safety of fleet vehicles. There are thousands of risks, and these only increase the longer you’re on the road.
Failing these inspections have great consequences. Your fleet might end up on a blacklist by potential clients, resulting in a loss in profits. Additionally, insurance companies will likely increase your rates. Failing an inspection also lowers your safety score and reputation. Both of which are hard to recover from. Then, of course, there are penalties for noncompliance, which can equate to thousands of dollars.
To avoid penalties and damage to your company, prepare your fleet for any level inspection. You’ll find everything you need for each inspection below.
What are the DOT Inspection Levels?
DOT officials and the state highway patrol perform most inspections at weigh stations. In most DOT levels of inspection, officials assess the driver, vehicle, and paperwork. The reading of the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is where most inspections begin. It’s followed by a walkaround of the vehicle. The thoroughness of the inspection depends on the level.
Level 1: North American Standard Inspection
This is one of the most thorough levels of truck inspection. It includes an assessment of the driver, vehicle, and paperwork.
For the driver, they’ll check for signs of drugs, alcohol, or other hazardous materials. Drivers also hand over their license, HoS log, and Driver and Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR).
For the vehicle, inspectors with check the following:
- Coupling devices
- Tires, rims, hubcaps
- Exhaust and fuel systems
- Emergency exits
- Electrical cables
- Lights, headlamps, brake lamps, tail lamps
- Securement of cargo
- Steering mechanism
- Safe loading
- Windshield wipers
- Turn signals
Level 2: Inspection
A level 2 DOT truck inspection is a walk-around vehicle and driver inspection. The only difference between level 1 and 2 inspections is the inspector will only check the vehicle’s exterior. They will not climb under to inspect the suspension or frame. Only what they can see from a walk around.
Level 3: Inspection
This is a driver-only inspection, encompassing credentials. This includes:
- Record of Duty Status (RODS)
- Driver’s license
- HAZMAT requirements
- Medical card and waiver
- Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) certificate
- Vehicle Inspection Report
- HM/DG requirements
- HoS documentation
- Employee training records
- Seat belt
- Alcohol and/or drug use
- Liability coverage
- MCS-90 or MCS-82 form (countersigned by insurance provider)
- Accident register
Level 4: Inspection
This is an inspection of specific features, determined by DOT researchers. The focus is often on common violations from the year(s) before.
Level 5: Inspection
This inspection is a vehicle-only inspection conducted after an accident or arrest. This means the inspection is often performed off-site, without the driver present. It’s also very thorough--on par with a level 1 inspection.
Level 6: Inspection
This inspection is exclusive for those vehicles carrying hazardous materials or Highway Route Controlled Quantities (HRCQ). It includes a thorough inspection of:
- Radiological shipments
- Radiological requirements
- Enhanced out-of-service criteria
What to Expect During & After a DOT Inspection
DOT officials or state highway patrol officers can pull you over for a DOT roadside inspection at any time. In most cases, they’ll do this at a weigh station, but they may also do so at truck stops or conduct a roadside inspection. When an officer pulls over a fleet vehicle, there’s often a reason unrelated to inspection. They may spot a headlight or taillight out, or notice the driver swerving. How the driver interacts with the official plays a role in determining the level of inspection.
If there are no violations, the official issues a CVSA decal. This decal indicates that the driver and vehicle passed inspection. This validation lasts for three months. If there are minor violations, they won’t place the vehicle out of service (OOS). But the violations will still count against your CSA scores. All repairs must occur within 15 days of the truck inspection. The carrier must sign and send in a confirming report of these repairs to the FMCSA. With significant violations, the inspector places the driver and vehicle out of service. Officials can keep the vehicle out of service until the correction of the violations and the carrier send the FMCSA validation of repairs.
Tips for Passing Any Level DOT Fleet Vehicle Inspection
There are a lot of things you can do to prepare for any level of fleet inspection. The most important and obvious is to keep your vehicle in full working condition. Another is to be professional and organized. But there are other things you can do to avoid penalties during an inspection, such as the following:
Vehicle Inspection Forms
While you want to be as organized as possible, you also want to be exceptionally thorough. This includes completing daily vehicle inspection reports (DVIR), and doing so electronically. This helps you remain compliant, but it also grants you visibility into the health of your fleet. Filing these reports electronically allows your drivers to access them on demand.
Check Your DOT Annual Inspection Report
Some states mandate annual audits of your fleet, but all states should be conducting them regardless. From these inspections, you glean information that helps to improve your fleet. You can also use these inspection forms to help you create DVIRs and policies. If you’re using a telematics system, you can use alerts to remind you of annual inspections.
Keeping up with preventative maintenance is the key to avoiding HoS violations. It also helps to keep your drivers safe on the road, decrease fleet costs, and reduces liability. Even better, it reduces the likelihood of major repairs and resulting downtime. To stay up to date with preventative maintenance, use telematics maintenance alerts and scheduling. You should also implement a fleet maintenance checklist, which is similar to a DOT inspection checklist. It includes the following:
- Body check
- Check frame and undercarriage condition
- Rust check
- Mirror check
- All exterior lights working
- Glass integrity
- Doors and windows operable
- Any leaks
- Fluids topped up (brake, steering, antifreeze, etc.)
- Basic engine check
- Replace windshield wipers if needed
- Oil change
- Oil filter change
- Tire pressure and tread
- Cooling and fuel systems check
- All belts and hoses in proper condition
- Transmission check (especially the mount)
- Brakes and rotors
- CV joints
- Rotate tires as needed
- Seasonal tire change
- Check seat and seatbelt integrity
- Heating, A/C, and defrost working
- Spark plugs
- Exhaust system
- Electrical system components
The DOT places stringent requirements on driver qualifications for a CDL license. Each driver file must include:
- Previous three years of employment verification
- A safety performance history
- Entry-level driver training
- Drug/alcohol test results
- Motor vehicle record (MVR) check for previous three years
- Three years of signed annual reviews from the motor carrier
- Road test and certification
- Three years of DOT physical certifications
- Three years of annual MVRs from state(s) in three years' worth
- Annual written driver statement of violations
- Any waivers granted
To ensure compliance, carriers should keep these details in secure electronic files. They should also have a system for tracking expiration dates of all licenses. You should also be just as stringent with your qualifications for employing drivers. Their behavior on the road affects your possibility of inspection and violation.
Driver Behavior Reporting
As mentioned, driver behavior affects your potential for inspection. They also affect the level of inspection, liability, and costs. Because of this, you want to ensure their driving behavior is up to your standards. Use telematics to ensure your drivers aren’t speeding or driving aggressively. If drivers are repeatedly making mistakes, use telematics reports to build tailored driver training.
The easiest way to avoid DOT inspection violation fines is to stay organized. Azuga fleet tracking and telematics optimizes your fleet management. You can monitor driver behavior, set maintenance alerts, log HoS, and so much more. Learn more about fleet tracking, at Azuga.