What are the different DOT Inspection Levels?

Lindsey Woods
8 Minutes

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is the federal government's primary agency for "planning and support of the nation's land, air and sea-based travel systems" ( Transportation companies like LGT who deliver different goods across America must follow and meet their regulations to protect workers and the public. A way that the DOT enforces their laws is by conducting regular and annual inspections of vehicles and transporters. A DOT Inspection is required annually, where a certified Inspector will review the entire contents of a truck and trailer, along with the documentation and credentials of a driver. A DOT Officer or State Trooper can pull a driver over anywhere, and it is the driver's responsibility to maintain their vehicles and paperwork, and keep them in working order.

There are different levels of DOT Inspections, each one differing in what the DOT Officer is looking at each time. Typically Inspections can last anywhere from 15-60 minutes and each one has requirements that drivers must have at the ready.

1. North American Standard Inspection

Here is the first level of DOT inspections. A Standard Inspection is the most common where the inspector does a complete check of the driver and the vehicle. Driver's can prepare for this by having all the necessary documents on hand, and performing regular preventative maintenance on their truck and trailer.

The documents a driver should have ready for this are:

  • Your License
  • Medical Certificates
  • Logs
  • Hours of Service Documentation (HOS)
  • Any Previous Inspection Reports
  • and Your Endorsements

The other things the DOT Inspector is going to check are the seat belt, the braking, exhaust and fuel systems, tires and wheels (rims, hubcaps), battery, coupling devices, emergency exits and/or electrical cables, the frame, lights (headlamps, stop lamps, brake lamps, tail lamps, signals), safe loading, cargo securement, and steering, suspension. Other inspectors check for alcohol and drug consumption. If the Inspector finds any violations, they could place the vehicle our of service (OOS).

When doing a Standard Inspection, it usually only takes around 45-60 minutes for the inspector to check inside and out of the truck and trailer, and look over your paperwork.

2. Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection

The second level of a DOT inspection is very similar to the first Standard Inspection. The only difference is that the Inspector for this level checks everything he can without going underneath the vehicle. What they are looking for is anything that is not operating correctly and is visibly noticeable. A Walk-Around Inspection also involves them checking the documentation and licensing of the driver, so make sure to have that at the ready.

3. Driver-Only Inspection

Here's where you really need to have everything in order. The third level examines only the driver and their credentials and paperwork. Fleetnet America says it's crucial to keep these documents current:

  • License
  • Electronic Logging Device (ELD)
  • Record of Duty Status (RODS)
  • Hours of Service (HOS)
  • Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR)

Other things they may look at are the driver's Hazmat requirements, drug and alcohol consumption and on very rare cases, their Skill Card Performance Evaluation Certificate. This is typically the shortest type of Inspection, lasting around 15 minutes.

4. Special Inspections

These are rare inspections and usually only occur once to check a singular item (documentation, engine, etc.). American Truck Business Services (ABTS) mentions that sometimes Special Inspections are done to "confirm or deny a possible trend in DOT Inspections". Because you never know exactly what they are checking, there is no average time.

5. Vehicle-Only Inspections

This one examines all the vehicle components from level one. This one is different though because the driver of the vehicle cannot be present. These usually happen at the carrier's location during a compliance review. The standard time for a Vehicle-Only Inspection is around 30 minutes.

6. Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments

The last type of inspection is the Enhanced NAS Inspection which is what it says, for Radioactive Shipments. ATBS claims "This inspection is specific to CMVs hauling highway route controlled quantities (HRCQ) of radiological shipments", which means they are hauling "hazardous freight, medical waste, or nuclear material". This inspection is more difficult with enhanced OOS criteria, regular inspection procedures with improvements, and radiological requirements. The driver, vehicle, and cargo MUST be defect-free.

Samsara, one of the leading Industrial IoT Companies has a few tips to help prepare drivers and vehicles for DOT Inspections.

Have drivers perform their own inspections on things like vehicle tire pressure and tread depth. Have them also look under the hood regularly. Spend some time organizing your paperwork and personal items and don't have any obvious reasons to be pulled over (broken taillights, cracked windshield, etc.). Communicate with drivers to let them know what documentation and credentials are needed for inspections, and keep copies.

Having a regular maintenance schedule is another tactic to implement. LGT performs the standard inspections every 90 days to stay ahead of any maintenance issues that could become larger problems.

After an Inspection

Three things can happen after an inspection:

  1. No Violations

The official puts a CVSA decal that is valid for 3 months on the vehicle, letting other officials know the driver and vehicle have passed an inspection.

  1. Non-serious Violations

The officer found something that was in violation but isn't a big enough concern to place OOS. Fleetnet America explains, "Even though the vehicle can still operate, the violations count against the carrier (or possibly the driver) and can impact Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) Scores". The violations must be fixed within 15 days and a report must be signed and sent to the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration.

  1. Vehicle or driver is placed OOS

This is not good. This means there was a serious violation found of either the driver or the vehicle that poses a danger to other motorists. The driver or vehicle cannot operate again until all the violations have been corrected and reported.

In Summary

DOT Inspections are unavoidable and can alter the way a trip is carried out. Preparing for inspections by having your documentation and regularly scheduled maintenance on the truck and trailer will help you immensely. Different levels of DOT inspections can happen throughout a 12 month period, so be ready when they decide to pull you aside.

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