What To Expect In A DOT Audit - Heavy Duty Trucking

During a DOT compliance assessment, some companies compare the experience to a difficult and unpleasant root canal. However, if your company's management team has a solid grasp of the regulatory requirements that pertain to your operations and the specific documents that the DOT requires, the assessment of your transportation safety program records and the subsequent evaluation by the DOT can proceed smoothly.

While undergoing a DOT compliance assessment, many companies liken the process to a challenging and uncomfortable root canal. Nonetheless, if your company's management team has a keen understanding of the regulatory requirements that apply to your operations and the specific documents that the DOT expects to receive, the evaluation of your transportation safety program records and subsequent assessment by the DOT may progress smoothly.

Who is Subject to Audits? 

An on-site DOT audit is conducted to measure a business's safety performance and ensure the accuracy and completeness of its records. The audit also assesses whether the organization has adequate management controls to ensure compliance with FMCSR regulations. It is important to note that the topics discussed in this essay are not exhaustive, and it is the motor carrier's responsibility to be aware of and adhere to all FMCSR recordkeeping and regulatory requirements.

The DOT review process consists of six inspection categories, and the results of the review provide a rating of Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory for each category. Even if a corporation receives a Satisfactory rating, it is important to maintain compliance efforts to ensure the ongoing safety of the company's transportation program. A company's safety program is considered satisfactory if it meets the DOT's minimum requirements for each category.

Generally Necessary DOT Data 

A carrier must be prepared to provide proof of adequate liability insurance that is specific to the type of carrier and cargo being transported. Section 387.9 of the FMCSR contains a schedule of restrictions, and carriers should have the MCS-90 or MCS-82 form ready for inspection as per 382.15. This form is countersigned by a representative of the insurance company.

During a Factor 1 evaluation, the DOT will also review the carrier's accident record. This record includes incidents falling under the FMCSR's Section 390.5 definition of an "accident," commonly known as "DOT recordable accidents." If the carrier maintains an accurate record of these incidents, it will be evaluated by the DOT. The record must include the occurrence date, location (city and state), driver's name, number of accidents, number of fatalities, and any hazardous materials other than fuel that were spilled.

Carriers must maintain the accident register for inspection, even if there have been no DOT-recordable incidents. If an accident is recorded in the log, it must be kept for three years after the event. Additionally, a DOT assessment may include an inspection of the vehicle markings. Commercial motor vehicles must display the legal or single-trade name of the carrier (as it appears on the MCS-150 form) and the DOT-assigned number followed by the initials "USDOT" on both sides, as per 390.21.

Driver Requirements & Qualifications 

Driver qualifications, drug and alcohol testing, and commercial driver's licenses (CDL) are all covered in a Factor 2 evaluation. The DOT requires carriers operating commercial motor vehicles (CMV) that require a CDL to demonstrate that their drivers possess valid licenses appropriate for the vehicle class and necessary endorsements. Carriers must have a system in place to track the expiration dates of these licenses.

If a carrier operates equipment that requires a CDL, they must also have a drug and alcohol testing program established in accordance with Parts 40 and 382 of the FMCSR. The DOT confirms that a carrier's CDL driver testing program is distinct from any other testing needed for business purposes. Section 382.601 requires a carrier to have a documented policy governing the testing program. The policy must contain all the elements specified in that section and be examined for compliance. Additionally, each CDL driver must receive a copy of the policy, and the carrier must maintain a signed receipt from each driver that is easily accessible for examination.

DOT Operational Component Requirements 

Factor 3 of a DOT evaluation is primarily focused on rules found in FMCSR Part 395, Hours of Service. Any company operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is subject to driving restrictions and must keep track of service hours. During the examination, the DOT expects to receive six months' worth of driver logs and accompanying paperwork, unless the carrier uses an exemption.

Regulated drivers must have a file that is regularly updated by the carrier, whether in electronic or paper form. The DOT checks standard graph logs that drivers are required to fill out for infractions. The form and method are merely details that must be included on a driver's log, in addition to the graph. When a driver exceeds the 11-hour, 14-hour, and 60 or 70 hours in eight days regulations, it is considered an hours of service violation. Using supporting documentation, falsification is evaluated to determine whether a driver intentionally provided false information on a log.

DOT Vehicle Specifications 

Factor 4 of a DOT evaluation covers inspection and maintenance-related topics as outlined in Part 396 of the FMCSR. The DOT requires carriers to demonstrate that each commercial motor vehicle (CMV) under their care for 30 consecutive days or longer is engaged in a program of routine maintenance.

For each vehicle covered under Part 396, a vehicle maintenance file should be maintained, including records of any inspections, repairs, or maintenance performed on that vehicle. The file must clearly state the following information: company name (or license plate number), year and make, vehicle identification number (VIN) or serial number, tire size, and owner (if not the motor carrier). Maintenance records must be kept in the file for one year, excluding yearly inspections, before they can be deleted. The carrier is required to maintain annual or periodic inspections for 14 months. A copy of the most recent inspection report or an official sticker with visible inspection information (in certain jurisdictions) must be kept in the vehicle as proof of periodic examination.

The DOT confirms that licensed inspectors conduct annual or periodic inspections. Anyone working on CMV braking systems must be certified, and this may be questioned during an inspection. When a problem is discovered during an inspection, the report must include the signatures of the person who accepted the vehicle back into service, the mechanic who fixed the issue, and the next driver to perform a pre-trip check.


In conclusion, undergoing a DOT audit can be a daunting experience for companies, but it is necessary to ensure compliance with FMCSR regulations and maintain the safety of the transportation program. The audit process consists of six inspection categories, covering various aspects of compliance, including liability insurance, accident records, driver qualifications, and vehicle maintenance. It is the carrier's responsibility to maintain accurate and complete records and be prepared to provide proof of compliance during an audit. By having a thorough understanding of the regulatory requirements and maintaining compliance efforts, companies can ensure a successful DOT audit.

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