What to expect in a DOT audit
Table of contents
Learn what happens during a DOT audit and how you can prepare for one.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) needs to ensure that commercial fleet vehicles and drivers are in compliance with safety regulations while they are on the road. How do they do this? Through a DOT inspection, of course.
In 2022, 23.7% of vehicles and 6.1% of drivers were placed out of service after receiving a Level 1 DOT inspection. Being prepared for a DOT inspection can help make sure that your trucks and drivers are staying safe on the road and, additionally, contribute to your driver and vehicle uptime.
These inspections can happen at any time throughout the year, so it’s important to be prepared in case your fleet is chosen for one. We’ll walk you through what to expect and how to stay prepared for your next DOT audit.
What is a DOT inspection?
A DOT inspection, or audit, is a measure taken by the DOT to ensure that commercial vehicles are practicing fleet safety and aren’t at risk of causing or being involved in a major accident on a roadway. It consists of a series of tests to check both the vehicle and the driver to ensure neither is a safety hazard to others on the road. They are mandated by the DOT but can be carried out by state troopers or officials from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). The inspection can take place at the truck company’s location, a weigh station, a truck stop or on the road.
What is on the DOT inspection checklist?
A DOT inspection checklist guides the inspector through the audit. There are six different levels of inspection depending on what kind of fleet an auditor is examining and what kind of cargo they transport. It helps to familiarize drivers with all six levels in order to be prepared.
Level 1 DOT Inspection: North American Standard Inspection
The most common and thorough inspection is Level 1, also referred to as the North American Standard Inspection. It includes a checklist that examines both the driver and the vehicle for anything that might be amiss. This type of inspection usually takes upwards of 60 minutes to perform.
Drivers will need to present any documentation that the inspector asks for, including their commercial driver’s license, driver’s logs and any skill performance evaluation certificates they might have. The driver’s history of drug or alcohol consumption while operating a vehicle will also be taken into consideration, if applicable.
When it comes to the vehicle, you can generally expect the following areas to be examined:
- Seat belts
- Tires, rims and hubcaps
- Windshield wipers
- Lights, including headlights, rear lights and turn signals
- Steering wheel
- Fuel systems
- Cargo securement
- Coupling devices
Level 2 DOT Inspection: Walk-Around Driver and Vehicle Inspection
During a Level 2 inspection, the inspector will conduct a Level 1 inspection excluding anything they need to check under the truck and trailer for. This is why this inspection is also called a Walk-Around Driver and Vehicle Inspection. Drivers will still be required to present certain documents and be audited for any illegal substance use.
Level 3 DOT Inspection: Driver-Only Inspection
A Level 3 inspection focuses solely on the driver of the truck. During this type of inspection, the inspector will be looking at:
- Driver’s license
- Hours of service logs
- Seat belt use
- Alcohol and/or drug use
- Medical examiner certificate
- Skill Performance Evaluation certificate
- Record of Duty Status
- Carrier identification and status
Level 4 DOT Inspection: Special Inspection
Special inspections are reserved for a very specific vehicle feature and are considered one-time evaluations. Level 4 DOT inspections can help inspectors monitor and track how a specific violation is trending over time.
Level 5 DOT Inspection: Vehicle-Only Inspection
A Level 5 inspection, or Vehicle-Only Inspection, runs through the same DOT audit checklist as a Level 1 inspection but takes the driver out of the equation. In fact, this type of inspection is done without the driver present and can be performed in any location.
Level 6 DOT Inspection: Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments
A Level 6 DOT inspection is reserved for trailers carrying radioactive materials. It consists of everything that would normally be examined during a Level 1 inspection with the added measure of radiological checking. Once radioactive cargo is checked, the driver will be given a special nuclear symbol that needs to be displayed on the truck until it reaches their destination.
What is the most common DOT inspection?
Most truck drivers will only ever undergo a Level 1, Level 2 or Level 3 DOT audit, with Level 1 being the most common. Levels 4 through 6 are reserved for select cases and could be conducted as roadside inspections.
What to consider when preparing for a DOT inspection
Before the auditors arrive, they may request certain paperwork pertaining to compliance issues. This could include things like vehicle and driver registration, insurance documents and others.
The day of the audit, the auditor will arrive at the fleet’s location and can request a variety of documents relating to the driver and vehicle, including:
- Advanced user list
- Violations report
- Unassigned logs report
- Personal conveyance report
- Edit report
- Malfunction Report
- Accident register
- Documentation of hiring and disciplinary action
- Drivers’ medical certificates
- Hazardous materials list
After examining all the documents, the auditor may decide to take a closer look at certain drivers, most likely those that have had Hours of Service violations or been in accidents. The auditor will request a print out of the driver’s logs for the period of time being studied.
When the auditors have completed their work, they will provide the fleet with a compliance review report that addresses any areas of concern they discovered and offer recommendations for improving performance and DOT compliance. Remember the purpose of FMCSA is to ensure trucks are operated in a safe manner, so auditors will be looking for ongoing issues that impact safety on the road.
Here are a few helpful tips to help make sure that your drivers and trucks are ready for a DOT inspection:
- Keep workspaces clean: This includes both the inside of the cab and the exterior of the semi. Not only does keeping the cab and the exterior of your vehicle clean help you look more professional during an inspection, it also helps preserve your equipment in the long run.
- Stay organized: Encourage your drivers to always have their paperwork ready, legible and organized in case they are asked for an inspection. Keeping all documentation in a single folder makes it easier on inspectors and helps the inspection run smoothly. Having backup copies of all documentation is handy as well just in case anything gets lost in the shuffle.
- Emphasize the importance of driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIR): Ensuring that your drivers are doing proper assessments of their vehicles before and after trips will help the whole team remain vigilant to anything that needs attention. Addressing maintenance issues as they arise and being proactive about fixing problem areas means a smoother and more efficient inspection process.
- Digitize as much as possible: The less paperwork the better. Having all of your drivers’ reports, like HOS reports and DVIRs, available at the click of a button can make for a smooth DOT audit for everyone involved.
- Use a fleet management system: Using a fleet management system is a proactive way to optimize and streamline the DOT inspection process. It can flag maintenance issues, monitor driver safety and identify missing reports all from one dashboard to help fleet managers stay organized.
How to pass your DOT inspection
Using a fleet management system like Geotab can help streamline the DOT inspection process. All of your driver and vehicle data in one open platform with an easy-to-use, clear dashboard and reporting system can help make passing your DOT audit a breeze.
Download our DOT Level 1 Preparation Checklist to help get you and your fleet ready for your Level 1 inspection.
Learn how Geotab's DOT Compliance Software and mobile apps help simplify your compliance obligations.
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Robin Kinsey has over 25 years of sales experience in a combination of individual contributor and sales management.
Geotab's blog posts are intended to provide information and encourage discussion on topics of interest to the telematics community at large. Geotab is not providing technical, professional or legal advice through these blog posts. While every effort has been made to ensure the information in this blog post is timely and accurate, errors and omissions may occur, and the information presented here may become out-of-date with the passage of time.
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