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The Six Levels of DOT Inspections

The Six Levels of DOT Inspections – A Guide To Decode The DOT Inspections

The Department of Transportation (DOT)

Established on October 15, 1966, The Department of Transportation (DOT) is the governing authority for transportation in the United States of America. The mission of the DOT is to serve the American public and economy through the safe and equitable movement of goods and services. As a part of the DOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) plays a critical role in maintaining the nation’s interstate highways. The FHWA provides funding using funds collected through various taxes like fuel & motor vehicle excise taxes.

Role & Responsibility of the DOT

The highest responsibility of the DOT is to ensure that the Commercial Motor Vehicles (CMVs) are in top-notch condition to run on the Interstate Highways. Assessment of the physical and mental state of the drivers operating the fleet and ensuring that they are fit enough to perform their duties also falls under the purview of the DOT.

DOT Inspection

The DOT has mandated various inspections to ensure the safe and seamless functioning of the transportation network. For better efficiency, the DOT inspections have been categorized into six Levels. These six levels are critical and cover the entire gamut of CMVs or Fleet as they are popularly known. Every level of these inspections is different and has specific requirements. These inspections can be held during any time of the year.

DOT Officials

These are designated DOT inspectors or police officers assigned with the responsibility of carrying out various inspections of the CMV fleets. Apart from these officers, several groups work in unison to ensure that the carriers and drivers adhere to the DOT laws. Some of these groups are

  1. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) provides funding for all inspections and reports to the DOT.
  2. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) is a non-profit organization that aims to achieve uniformity in the CMVs inspections by certified inspectors committed to driver and vehicle safety.

The essence of this article is to give an insight into The Differences between the six levels of DOT inspections.

Level I – North American Standard Inspection

It is a very comprehensive DOT inspection starting with the driver. It includes checking the driver’s license and scrutiny of the medical examiner’s certificate. The officer will talk to the driver and test for drug and alcohol consumption. They also check  the driver’s record of duty status and service hours. There is a walk around by the official who examines the following details: 

  1. Brake systems
  2. Cargo securement
  3. Coupling devices
  4. Exhaust systems
  5. Fuel Systems
  6. Lighting devices like headlamps, tail lamps, stop lamps, turn signals, and flags on projecting load.
  7. Steering mechanisms
  8. Suspensions
  9. Tires
  10. Van and open-top trailer bodies
  11. Wheels, rims, and hubs
  12. Windshield wipers
  13. Buses, motorcoaches, passenger vans, or other passenger-carrying vehicles – emergency exits, electrical cables, and systems in the engine and battery compartments

Level II – Walk-Around Driver / Vehicle Inspection

It is not different from the Level I- North American Standard Inspection. It is a walk-around and includes inspecting the driver & vehicle. It covers all the guidelines for checking as per DOT laws. The walk-around entails an inspection of only those items where the officer does not have to get under the vehicle. These inspections can be done on the road or anywhere else. 

Level III – Driver/Credential/Administrative Inspection

This level pertains only to the driver and not the vehicle. The focus is only on the driver’s credentials and documentation. It is a critical inspection for the driver as it  includes examining the Medical Examiner’s Certificate and Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) Certificate. The Hours of Service (HOS) is a mandatory document needed to be maintained. However, the Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), which have replaced paper log books, make record keeping efficient. The FMCSA views HOS violations as a grave danger to highway safety and can exercise sanctions against the fleet owners or the individual driver.

Drivers transporting petroleum or flammable materials should obtain a HAZMAT (Hazardous Materials) Safety Permit as prescribed by the DOT. According to DOT rules, HAZMAT employers have to ensure the training and testing of the HAZMAT employees. Recurrent training is required at least once every three years.

Note: Level III inspections should not include mechanical equipment violations specific to Level I or Level II.

Level IV – Special Inspections

The Level IV inspection is a one-time examination of a specific vehicle feature. These are rare and are done mainly for comparative or research purposes, usually when DOT asks the states to gather information for analysis. These inspections can also be driver-related but mostly center around mechanical items.

This DOT inspection is more of a surprise inspection and requires all the parties  to be alert.

Level V – Vehicle-Only Inspection

As evident by its name Level V inspection is only for Vehicles listed in Level I North American Standard Inspection. It is conducted in the absence of a driver at any remote location or the carrier’s facility during a compliance review or safety audit. 

Level VI – North American Standard (NAS) Inspection for Transuranic waste and Highway Route Controlled Quantities (HRCQ) of Radioactive Material

The DOT has mandated that all vehicles and carriers transporting HRCQ of radioactive material are required to pass through Level VI- North American Standard Inspection. CMVs on the highways transporting hazardous freight, nuclear material, or medical waste of radiological shipments will be subject to a DOT inspection.

Level VI inspections are stressful and tedious for the driver and the officials. It is bound to be stressful as it involves the transportation of hazardous cargo, and if leaked or spilled could have disastrous consequences for the environment. The drivers transporting radioactive material are given training equivalent to the officials inspecting the shipment.

Expectations at DOT Inspection

A DOT official or state trooper can stop a driver at any location. The following tips will be of help to any operator or driver:

  1. The driver should be responsible and pull over as directed by the officials without arguing.
  2. The driver needs to be composed and co-operate by providing all the documents required for the DOT Inspection.
  3. The fleet operator should ensure that each truck in the fleet should have the logbooks updated.
  4. For trucks equipped with an ELD, the driver should know how to access the logs and email them to the DOT official.
  5. Keep the driving license, all documents, and permits in an organized manner. Ensure permit books are updated regularly and be aware of the status.

Common Violations during DOT Inspection

Following is a general list of common violations observed by drivers and fleet during DOT Inspection

For Drivers –

  1. Logs not updated / False Logs
  2. Expired or invalid driving license
  3. Missing or invalid medical card
  4. Not having paper logs in case of ELD failure 

For Vehicles – 

  1. Brakes not powerful enough or other breaking problems
  2. Malfunction of lights that including headlights, brake lights to turn indicators
  3. Leakage of lubricants
  4. Unable to produce proof of annual inspections
  5. Inadequate tire tread depth
  6. Improper Hazmat placards & markings
  7. No or expired Hazmat permits

The outcome of DOT Inspections

The three outcomes of DOT Inspections are as follows:

  1. No Violations found: Reflects well on the Fleet operator and driver. It will augur well for the CMV as the likelihood of being pulled over for another inspection is negligible unless there is a noteworthy problem
  2. Violations not serious: In such cases, where not very serious violations have been found, the vehicle can continue plying on the road. However, the violations will count against the CMV Operator or driver. They must resolve all observations and issues indicated by the DOT within 15 days of the inspection.The operator must send a report to the FMCSA informing them that all the repairs have been completed within the stipulated time frame.
  3. Out of Service: In case of serious violations, the vehicle and operator will be Out of Service. They can resume operations only after all the violations have been rectified and documented.

Many violations can be avoided by using Electronic Logging Device (ELD)  ELDs are very useful during roadside inspections. ELDs automatically record critical information, which helps the operators and the regulators alike. Matrack ELDs are very reliable in terms of accuracy and can expedite the inspection process. Also as the ELD can be integrated into the Matrack Fleet Management solution, operators and drivers can schedule preventive maintenance and avoid fines during such inspections.

Conclusion

All the six levels of inspection are crucial, and the DOT has robust checks and balances in place to ensure adherence to the regulations. The DOT Inspections form the backbone for regulating CMVs and their drivers. Such strong regulation act as a deterrent for any malpractices or carelessness by the CMV operators. The continuing efforts of the DOT to regulate the CMV space will benefit the Operators and Drivers in the years to come.

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