Annual Department of Transportation (DOT) inspections are integral to every trucking company’s vehicle repair, maintenance and general regulatory compliance program. It helps ensure your fleet is in good condition and protects your drivers and other road users against accidents. This guide simplifies the requirements of DOT inspection and offers tips on how you can ace it.
What Is an Annual DOT Inspection?
An annual DOT inspection is a yearly commercial motor vehicle (CMV) inspection that the DOT conducts to improve roadway safety and compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) standards.
The process typically involves a qualified mechanic reviewing the truck’s interior and exterior components and driver’s paperwork to ensure everything is in order. After the inspection, the inspector signs off on an annual inspection report and applies a yearly inspection sticker.
What Is Included in a DOT Review?
DOT truck inspections typically include the following:
1. General Inspections
General inspections require the carrier to produce their liability coverage, accident register, employee training records and MCS-90 or MCS-82 form countersigned by the insurance provider. Additionally, inspectors may check vehicle markings.
2. Operational Inspections
Operational inspections involve a review of the driver’s logs to ensure compliance with driving limitations and all hours-of-service rules. Even when the carrier has exemptions, such as the 100 air-mile exemption, they must follow all standard recordkeeping requirements.
3. Driver Inspections
The driver inspection generally involves the following:
- Driver application
- Road test and certification
- Entry-level driver training, if required
- Motor vehicle record for the past three years
- Three years of signed annual reviews from the carrier
- Three years’ DOT physical certification
- Previous three years’ employment verification, drug and alcohol test results and safety performance
- Road test and certification
- Annual written driver statement of violations
- Any waivers granted
3. Vehicle Inspections
It’s important to keep maintenance records for at least one year and annual and periodic inspections on file for at least 14 months for each vehicle as proof of compliance. You must keep the records for at least a year for roadside inspections.
4. Hazardous Materials
There are strict regulations for companies transporting hazardous materials, and they generally concern marking and labeling. There should be placards on bulk packages and on each side of the vehicle. Drivers transporting hazardous materials should have an “H” endorsement on their CDL, regardless of vehicle size.
Fleet managers must keep accident-related records for at least three years and present them during DOT inspections.
The 6 Levels of Inspections
Here are the six main levels of DOT inspections:
1. Level 1
The most thorough inspection — the North American Standard Inspection — involves an assessment of the vehicle, driver and paperwork. The inspectors examine the vehicle for worn-out or damaged parts, including the braking system, tires, battery, lighting and cargo securement. They also assess the driver for signs of drug and alcohol consumption, use of seat belts and proper documentation. The inspector can place the CMV out of service if they find any violations.
2. Level 2
This level is the walk-around vehicle and driver inspection, which entails inspecting the vehicle’s exterior. It excludes checking the components underneath the truck, such as the frame and suspension. The inspector also checks the driver’s credentials and paperwork.
3. Level 3
The driver-only inspection concerns an inspection of the driver’s credentials and records, including the following:
- Driver’s license
- Electronic logging device
- Medical card and waiver
- Record of duty status
- Skill performance evaluation certificate
- Hours of service documentation
- Vehicle inspection report
- Employee training records
- Liability coverage
- Accident register
- Hazmat requirements
4. Level 4
Level 4 special inspections are rare and usually cover specific features determined by DOT researchers in support of studies.
5. Level 5
This vehicle-only inspection is often conducted after an accident, arrest or other compliance reviews. It is similar to a Level 1 inspection, but the driver is not present, and it is usually performed off-site.
6. Level 6
Level 6 inspections — enhanced North American Standard Inspections for radioactive shipments — are exclusive to vehicles carrying hazardous materials or highway route-controlled quantities. This level of inspection includes a thorough inspection of the following:
- Radiological requirements
- Radiological shipments
- Enhanced out-of-service criteria
How to Pass Your Annual DOT Inspection
Here are seven tips for passing your annual DOT truck inspections:
1. Get Everyone Involved
Fleet managers and owners must get the whole team on board when preparing for annual DOT inspections. The audit may involve all members, meaning leaving a person out of the exercise can jeopardize your preparations.
Assign tasks to different staff members, have your drivers triple-check their logs and correct all errors immediately. Finally, ensure that you’ve covered each of the six inspection categories.
2. Stay on Top of Vehicle Maintenance
Your fleet must be in good physical condition to pass your annual DOT inspection. Conduct regular and scheduled preventive maintenance and create a checklist detailing all the areas that need repairing or replacing.
3. Identify Compliance Delays
Compliance can be straightforward and challenging at the same time. As a pro tip, reserve paperwork for professionals with the time and experience to complete and file them. Again, prepare all reports promptly and ensure all your staff receives appropriate legal and compliance training.
4. Complete Your FMCSA Annual Inspection Form
Completing your daily vehicle inspection reports helps you stay compliant and provides you with regular updates about your fleet, which prepares you for the annual inspection. Use the information you gather to improve your fleet and create efficient policies.
5. Create a Culture of Safety Standards
Each team member plays a vital role in the success of your DOT inspection. Thus, ensuring everyone is constantly in sync with the organization’s compliance goals is crucial. One of the best ways to achieve this is to instill a safety mindset across your entire team. That way, compliance with regulations and standards becomes more of a continuous journey than an event.
6. Be Organized
Train your drivers to keep the vehicles organized and tidy. That is one of the simplest ways to impress an inspector. Additionally, ensure activities and paperwork are well organized and streamlined for efficiency.
7. Be Honest
Honesty can save you from sanctions. Inspectors sometimes understand that multiple factors come to play when preparing for your DOT inspection. So, if there is a minor challenge, drivers should be upfront and assure the inspectors of immediate resolution.
8. Be Courteous
Consider DOT officials as stakeholders on the road to safety. Building a mindset of collaboration helps you treat inspectors with respect and decorum. A polite, well-mannered driver, fleet manager or owner is more likely to get favorable results.
DOT Inspection FAQ
Do you have further questions? Here are answers to the most common questions involving DOT inspections:
1. What Documents Are Required?
DOT inspections involve various documents depending on the level of review, but they generally include licenses, road tests, drug and alcohol test results, training, insurance coverage and accident reports.
2. What Are the Most Common Violations Among Drivers?
Some common DOT violations among drivers involve hours of service, speeding, seat belts and driver behavior breaches.
3. What Are the Most Common Vehicle Violations?
Common vehicle violations include lighting, tires and cargo capacity breaches.
4. How Long Does an FMCSA Annual Inspection Take?
The DOT inspection process can take between 30 to 90 minutes, depending on the level of inspection.
5. What Does an FMCSA Annual Inspection Consist of?
The inspection level determines what the inspection entails. For example, Level 1 inspections are comprehensive and involve the driver, vehicle and necessary paperwork, while Level 2 inspections focus on the vehicle exterior and driver’s paperwork.
6. How Do You Complete Your Annual DOT Inspection Sticker?
You’ll need the date of the annual inspection, your DOT number and your vehicle’s identification number to fill out the yearly DOT inspection sticker. You must also include the company’s name, address and contact details.
7. Where Should You Put FMCSA Annual Inspection Stickers?
There are no specific rules regarding where to place the annual inspection stickers, but it’s best always to have them in your truck so you can produce them upon request.
8. Who Can Perform Annual DOT Inspections?
No certification is required for persons who can perform annual DOT inspections, but the FMCSA requires the person to be “qualified.” FMCSR CFR 396.19 outlines the qualifications.
9. How Much Does An Annual DOT Inspection Cost?
The prices vary depending on factors such as the level of inspection and repairs needed. Fines and sanctions can also raise the fee.
10. How Often Do You Have to Get an FMCSA Annual Inspection?
You must conduct your federal vehicle inspection at least once every 12 months.
11. Can You Do Your Own Annual DOT Inspection?
It may be possible to conduct your own annual DOT inspection if you meet the definition of a qualified annual inspector. The law states that a motor carrier or intermodal equipment provider may perform the necessary inspections, but motor carriers often use independent contractors to streamline the process.
12. Where Can You Get Your Annual DOT Inspection?
You may get your inspection at the qualified inspector’s garage, at a truck repair facility or on your premises.
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