Best practices for DOT compliance in the trucking industry

May 29, 2018|Jeff Simon

The trucking industry is heavily regulated, and anyone who operates a commercial motor vehicle must follow the rules. In part two of this series covering best practices in the trucking industry, we focus on Department of Transportation (DOT) compliance. You can also read part one of the series, which focuses on best practices for data measurement.

Do you take time to think about different ways to do business? The thought of implementing best practices can be overwhelming; however, most can be implemented simply with a procedural adjustment. 


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) mandates several very specific procedures and records with which you must comply if you operate a commercial motor vehicle. However, keep in mind these regulations are minimum standards. You are certainly allowed to add your own procedures or best practices.

Below we will talk about best practices in compliance, which could help you save money, be more thorough in your standards or even better organize records to facilitate a quick DOT audit. Remember though, internal procedures must at least satisfy the FMCSR mandates.

Conduct a simulated DOT audit

It is always a good idea to conduct a thorough simulated DOT audit at least once per year. Deterioration of files is a common problem.

Things alter for the worse spontaneously, if they be not altered for the better designedly.
~ Francis Bacon

This old management principle certainly does apply to your DOT compliance process and particularly record-keeping mandates. Even the best compliance systems will experience natural slippage. Reasons might be that occasionally driver training becomes less frequent, maybe HR’s new specialist learns the screening process slower than expected, managers may get busy and forget to do required progressive discipline or reviews, or maintenance gets lax on their checklists and documentation. Required procedures and records evolve into a less than satisfactory condition—and it went unnoticed until it’s too late. Many use this annual simulated audit result as a component of a manager’s annual bonus.

Complete daily vehicle inspection reports

Late in 2014 regulations changed such that daily vehicle inspection reports (DVIR) are no longer required when there are no safety defects detected on a vehicle. A driver is not required to prepare the DVIR if after their post-trip inspection, he or she has not identified any safety defects.

Unfortunately, the DVIR process is critical to your entire vehicle inspection process. The pretrip inspection is no doubt the most important inspection of a driver’s day. For a tractor/trailer combination, a thorough inspection can take 40 minutes. A professional driver who takes less time should be wondering what they neglected and whether that missed item could cause an accident or a breakdown. During this pretrip inspection, the driver is required to look at the previous driver’s DVIR. If that DVIR is not available, the new driver does not know if there are any unrepaired defects from the last driver.

Motor carriers are responsible for any defects that could cause an accident and subsequent liability. The DVIR process has been a fundamental component of management control over the drivers’ performance for the past several decades. Without them you will never know whether the driver simply did not do the inspections.

As a best practice, continue using the DVIR as described in the regulations. The procedures are as follows:

  • DVIRs are prepared and signed at the end of the day
  • A mechanic is required to sign off on the original DVIR that repairs have been done, if applicable
  • The pretrip driver must have access to the previous DVIR and sign the bottom of the original to certify that they did their pretrip inspection and all defects have been repaired.

Pay attention to preventive maintenance

New engine guidelines now recommend the use of synthetic oils for intervals as long as 50,000 miles. The regulations mandate that a motor carrier “systematically” repair and maintain their vehicles. In our industry, this usually means implementation of a preventive maintenance (PM) program.

Nothing in the regulations mandates what these intervals need to be; however, depending on the vehicle, there may be 40-50 critical points to inspect—oil and filters are only two of those checks.

A typical PM program will have dry services (PM A) and wet services (PM B). There could be one to three dry services between every wet service. The dry service is designed to get a mechanic to inspect a vehicle as often as possible. Brakes, adjustments, belts, seals, tires and lights, among others, likely need more frequent attention than twice per year as in a 50,000-mile PM interval. Best practice is to conduct a dry service at least every three months.

Organize your PM files

Regarding preventive maintenance files, if you should happen to be the subject of a DOT audit, you can help facilitate the process by organizing your files so you can give the auditor what they are looking for quickly.

  • Place the annual inspections in a folder section by themselves or staple them into the front cover of the file folder. You need to keep these for 14 months and they normally will be requested during an audit.
  • File every dollar you spend chronologically for one year. This will include your PMs. Remember that if the repair was not documented, it did not happen. Place old maintenance records in another file that the auditor does not need access to (a box in the attic would be good).
  • Staple the repair order (RO) showing the appropriate repairs to any roadside inspection report that listed a maintenance violation. Keep these for one year and then toss them. The auditor will want to prove that the repair was made.
  • DVIRs should be filed by truck chronologically for three months. Do not keep them longer than necessary. The auditor will try to verify that the driver did a DVIR when applicable and if there is a safety defect listed it must be repaired and/or signed before the vehicle is reused.

Take note of the short-haul exception

The short-haul exception, often referred to as the “100-mile rule,” has been applicable for decades but still is not utilized by many carriers that would qualify. This is an exception from the requirement to record hours of service on a graph logs sheet (or now with the electronic logging device, or ELD), and eliminates the need to prepare the electronic logs if the driver can meet the following conditions:

  1. Stay within the 100-air-mile radius,
  2. Return and be released from work within 12 consecutive hours, and
  3. Stay within the hours-of-service limits.

All of the normal hours-of-service limits (10-hour break, 11 hours driving, 14 consecutive and 60/70 on-duty hours in a seven- to eight-day cycle) are still in effect, except that the 30-minute break after eight hours does not apply.

Instead of logs, the driver will need to record start time, end time and total hours each day on a time sheet. If the driver cannot meet these conditions on any given day then he must prepare a graph log sheet for that day and carry records of duty status (logs or time sheets) for the previous seven days.

When it comes to compliance with the regulations, do not perform unnecessary activities unless there is a safety or economic reason. As a general rule it is best to not show the state patrol officer anything they do not need to see. Don’t do logs unless you need to.

You may continue doing logs if you wish

Certainly, if you or your drivers are good at logs and/or you can rarely qualify for the short-haul conditions, then do logs. The new ELD mandate provides an exception from the ELD if the driver does not need to do logs more than eight times in any 30-day period.

The best practice is to utilize the short-haul exception as often as you can and manage your driver’s schedules so that no one driver will need to log more than eight times in any 30-day period. A simple 31-day time sheet with start time, end time and total hours is all that is required if the driver:

  1. Stays within the 100- to 150-air-mile radius,
  2. Returns to his or her terminal within 12 hours,
  3. Stays under 11 hours of driving and
  4. Takes a full 10-hour break between shifts.

Monitor safety performance history

In October 2004, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandated that you request a safety performance history (reference check) from all employers for which a driver drove a commercial motor vehicle during the previous three years.

Unfortunately, if we limit our drive screening to just employers for whom they drove, we lose our ability to reconstruct a truthful picture of their employment history. Drivers who have had a poor experience with a former employer (such as possibly an accident for which they were terminated) tend not to want to mention that carrier.

If you do not require the driver to list ALL employers for the three previous years, there is no way to know whether that carrier might have important information for our screening process. Not only should you continue to require drivers to list all employers for three previous years, but you should also require them to explain any gaps in employment longer than one month.

Ask all past employers for the previous three years, regardless of driving status, for verification of employment dates. If they drove, then past employers must report any accidents. If the driver has a commercial driver’s license (CDL), the Alcohol and Drug Testing questions must be answered.

Organize driver qualification files

Related to the above safety performance history, there are eight mandatory forms you must keep in the driver qualification files:

  • Application for employment
  • Safety performance history forms for past employers
  • Initial motor vehicle report
  • Road test
  • Med card
  • Certificate of violation*
  • Annual motor vehicle reports*
  • Annual review*

*Recommended every six months

Keep these forms well-organized. Don’t keep anything extra. Keep the first four forms for the duration of the employee’s employment period plus three years, and place them on the left side of the driver file folder. Keep the bottom four forms for three years and file them on the right. All driver files should be organized the same.

Implement effective management control

In 2010 when the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program was implemented, the DOT outlined the principles they consider to be the components of “management control.” For centuries, business management scholars have outlined almost exactly the same principles. There are four critical processes involved in adequate management control:

  • Set performance expectations and standards in some form of a policy.
  • Thoroughly train all employees on their responsibilities and KPIs.
  • Monitor actual performance and compare with the above expectations.
  • Identify excessive variances and take “meaningful action” to bring the employees back into acceptable performance. This is normally referred to as a progressive disciplinary process involving verbal warnings, suspensions and terminations. It is usually similar to a “three strikes and you are out” process.

If any of these steps are missing or even out of sequence, management control will be not be effective.

The regulations state that the purpose of a DOT audit is to verify that the motor carrier has “adequate management control” over all of the DOT mandates.

Check your CSA score

CSA scoring is generated from roadside inspection violations (or warnings), accidents or DOT audits. Monitor these scores closely and note violations as they occur. All roadside inspection reports must be turned in by the driver within 24 hours. If there are violations noted, you must certify within 15 days that the repairs or driver issue has been resolved.

Here are a few examples of how your scores can be affected:

  • Maintenance violations could be a result of slippage in your maintenance program or inadequate inspections by the driver. 
  • Driver fitness violations (CDL and Med card) indicate a miss in critical date tracking.
  • Unsafe driving requires immediate management response and driver discipline and/or training.
  • Hours of service issues can be the result of a driver, dispatch or ELD issue.

Attach documentation of the management response or the repair request order to the roadside inspection report and keep it for one year.

Consider how these best practices for DOT compliance in the trucking industry can give you a leg up on your competition. If you have questions regarding best practices surrounding data, please contact Schenck’s Trucking & Logistics team at 800-236-2246.

Jeff Simon, MBA, trucking & logistics industry consultant, has nearly 40 years of experience in transportation management and safety. He is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer whose services help Schenck clients create safe, compliant and efficient operations.