DOT Inspections: How to Keep Your Fleet Prepared

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July 15, 2019

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is responsible for ensuring that transportation systems in the United States are safe, accessible, and efficient. The DOT creates safety regulations for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators and carriers, including roadside inspections and audits that identify safety and non-compliance issues for trucking fleets.

There are six primary types of DOT Inspections in North America, nine in total, that commercial fleets and drivers may be subject to. All CMVs weighing more than 10,000 pounds are subject to an annual DOT inspection, plus any roadside inspections that may occur. Most inspections are carried out by a state police officer or a Certified DOT Inspector. During an inspection, vehicles, accessories and commercial drivers are scrutinized to ensure that vehicles are safe to be on the road. Fleet managers should become familiar with each type of DOT inspection, so they can prepare their fleets and drivers to pass inspections and stay compliant.

Level 1 DOT inspection

During a Level I DOT standard inspection, the most common type of inpection in North America, both the commercial motor vehicle and the truck driver will be inspected. This is one of the more thorough inspections carriers can expect to encounter. Everything required for safe driving on a vehicle will be inspected, and the DOT inspector will likely get under the vehicle to thoroughly examine as much equipment as possible, including but not limited to:

  • Brake systems
  • Exhaust systems
  • Seat belts
  • Coupling devices
  • Fuel systems
  • Lighting devices such as headlamps
  • Steering mechanisms
  • Windshield wipers
  • Wheels, rims and tires
  • Emergency exits
  • Electrical cables and systems
  • Turn signals
  • Securement of cargo

In addition to vehicle safety, drivers should expect all documentation to be inspected, including their commercial driver’s license (CDL), Medical Examiner’s Certificate, Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) Certificate, record of duty status (RODs) or Hours of Service (HOS) documentation, and driver and vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs).Drivers should also be prepared for alcohol and drug screening.

Level 2 DOT inspection

The Level II DOT inspection is known as the Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection. It’s similar to Level I, but less thorough. The inspector will check all driver documentation (driver’s license, Medical Examiner’s Certificate, SPE Certificate, RODS, HOS, DVIRs) and screen for drug and alcohol use.

The inspector likely will not get under the vehicle to examine all systems as they would in a Level 1 Standard Inspection; but everything that can be inspected within plain sight will be.

Level 3 DOT inspection

During a Level III DOT inspection, only driver credentials will be inspected. Drivers should be prepared to present the following:

  • Driver’s license
  • Medical Card / Medical Examiner's Certificate / waiver
  • SPE certificate
  • DVIR
  • HOS documentation
  • RODS
  • Carrier identification and status
  • Seat belt usage
  • Screening for drug or alcohol use

Traffic violations may also be included in a Level III inspection.

Level 4 DOT inspection

A Level IV Special Inspection typically includes a one-time examination of a particular vehicle- or driver-related item. This inspection is often done when the DOT is gathering specific information based on a data study or conducting research. For example, drivers may have their electronic logging devices (ELDs) inspected for HOS research or the vehicle may have all emergency exits inspected for safety research.

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Level 5 DOT inspection

A Level V Vehicle-Only Inspection covers everything that would be included in a Level I Standard inspection, but without the driver present. Most of these inspections occur at a company-owned facility as part of a DOT review or audit.

Level 6 DOT inspection

A Level VI Inspection—established by the DOT in 2005—is known as the North American Standard Inspection for Transuranic Waste and Highway Route Controlled Quantities (HRCQ) of Radioactive Material inspection.

Level VI is one of the most thorough types of inspection for both the vehicle and driver, as it relates to hazardous materials. All vehicles and drivers transporting radioactive materials are required to pass the Level VI North American Standard Inspections for HRCQ Radioactive Material. An NAS inspection for radioactive shipments is specific to the transportation of radiological materials and includes the following:

  • Level I Inspection with additions unique to HRCQ
  • Procedures for inspecting materials before and after driving
  • Requirements for transporting radiological materials
  • Additional out of service criteria (i.e. additional reasons to fail a vehicle/driver compared to Level I)

Level 7 DOT inspection

Level VII inspections are established for vehicles such as school buses, limousines, taxis, shared-ride transportation, hotel/rental car shuttles and more. These inspections are for “outlier” vehicles that do not meet the requirements of any other inspection level. The inspectors conducting Level VII inspections are certified by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA).

Level 8 DOT inspection

The Level VIII Electronic Inspection is conducted virtually, usually while a vehicle is in motion and without any actual contact between an inspector, driver and vehicle. A series of data points are extracted from the vehicle, including:

  • GPS coordinates
  • Confirmation of driver identity including driver’s license and certifications
  • RODs
  • HOS compliance
  • Federal out of service hours
  • Carrier registration

Telematics systems have paved the way for the Level VIII electronic inspections, which save time and money by eliminating the need for a driver to make a stop and have their records and daily logs reviewed.

Read more here about the different Department of Transportation inspection levels.

Automation helps reduce DOT and FMCSA violations

CMV operators often use compliance software to automate processes and make sure drivers and vehicles are DOT and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) compliant. Below are four ways to prepare your fleet for DOT inspections:

  1. Understand the ELD mandate and how to be compliant using proper devices.
  2. Complete a paperless DVIR daily for reference in any DOT inspection.
  3. Perform a pre-trip inspection every 24 hours.
  4. Maintain strict compliance to a preventative maintenance program.

Maintaining compliance and being ready for DOT inspections helps improve the safety of your commercial fleet, drivers and vehicles. It also extends the life of your fleet by maintaining drivers and vehicles in optimal operating function.

For more information on how DOT might target your vehicles for inspection, read our blog 3 Ways to Make Your Trucks Targets for DOT Inspection

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