The Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that all specified components of any commercial motor vehicle be inspected at least every 12 months, sometimes more frequently in certain cases. These inspections can be done at any time, but once a year, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) conducts its annual “Roadcheck”, where 10,000 federal, state, provincial, and local truck and bus inspectors hold heavy vehicle inspections throughout much of North America over a 72-hour period. Whether you know you’re coming up for a commercial truck inspection or not, here are a few things to know that will help you and your drivers pass DOT inspections.
Keeping up with Maintenance Needs in Commercial Trucks
For the most part, passing your truck inspection has a lot to do with making sure your trucks are tidy and in good working order. It may seem like a no-brainer, but as long as everything is safe and operational, you really have little to worry about. Every so often, check the seat belts, brake systems, coupling devices, exhaust systems, frames, fuel systems, lighting devices, steering mechanisms, suspension, tires, wheels, rims and hubs, windshield wipers, emergency exits, electrical cables, etc. These are the kinds of things on a Level I DOT commercial vehicle inspection checklist. In addition, make sure any cargo is properly secured.
As long as you do all of this, your vehicle should pass a Level I general DOT inspection. But what does your driver need to take care of for a truck safety inspection?
Drivers, Keep Your House in Order. This Helps a DOT Inspection Go Smoothly.
We’re not meaning “your house” literally, but you do spend a lot of time in your truck. Make sure it’s tidy and organized and keep a log of any pertinent information or findings during your pre-trip truck inspection. If you have no idea where anything is in your cab, and it is messy and possibly smells, there’s a good chance that your documents are also out of order, and that inspectors will assume that’s how you care for the whole truck as well. They’re much more likely to wave you in for a heavy vehicle inspection because they may think they’re more likely to find something wrong.
However, if you know where your fire extinguisher and triangles are, and you have your documents in order and in an easy-to-inspect format (folders and binders are appreciated by inspectors), the process is much more likely to run smoothly. Make sure you have all your documents on you, including your driver’s license, medical examiner’s certificate, driver’s record of duty status, documentation of annual inspection, hazardous materials paperwork (if applicable), and your permit credentials. The more you keep your “house” in order, the less painless the process will be and the more likely you are to pass your DOT inspection.
Attitude can Make all the Difference in the World in a DOT Vehicle Inspection
Passing a DOT inspection isn’t just about the state of a commercial vehicle. Officially or not, part of getting inspected has to do with the state of the driver’s behavior. If a driver begins arguing with an inspector about stopping them for a commercial vehicle inspection, an inspector is more likely to wave them in for a Level I inspection and possibly nitpick even more. In addition, if a driver does get pulled in for a truck inspection, a driver with this sort of attitude is more likely to be stuck there longer. A driver with a better attitude will go through a smoother experience than one who is constantly argumentative or surly.
In addition, be straightforward. If you left the terminal a day ago, and then did another pre-trip in the morning, and you found something wrong, inform the inspector up front that you are aware of the problem and intend to get it fixed. Things happen between trips, and inspectors may be more understanding if you are honest about it. If you claim everything is fine, and then they find something wrong, they will more than likely cite you for it.
As former inspector Andy Blair states, “I understand that between the terminal and the inspection area a light can go out, and so I don’t get all that excited. But you can’t tell me that you left the terminal 80 miles ago and that your tire went completely smooth in 80 miles.” Honesty really is the best policy here.
Bottom Line for your DOT Inspection: Be Courteous, Be Organized, and Be Prepared
You should be ready for a DOT truck inspection at any time. Keeping your truck well-maintained, keeping your documents and cab organized, and making sure to be courteous and respectful towards inspectors will ensure that you will pass your truck inspection. They can’t cite you if there’s nothing to cite, so make sure you keep everything in good working condition and make sure your drivers stay professional. If you follow these guidelines, you’ve got nothing to worry about, even if they do pull you in for a full Level I DOT inspection.