Trucking involves a lot of inspections from the DOT. That is just a fact. The DOT is going to conduct inspections on your vehicles, and those inspections are going to drive your DOT scores. This can have bigger effects than might be immediately apparent. It all comes back to your truck insurance rates.
Why DOT inspections are important.
There are a few reasons that something as simple as a DOT inspection becomes a big deal. Your overall DOT score is affected by these inspections. While it is not fun and it is not fair, truckers live in a world where everything they do is visible online and not secret. Insurance companies can see it, and lawyers can see it.
The point is that insurance companies want to take on risks that they see as being “defendable” in court because if anything were to happen, the insurance company would have to defend you. Things like vehicle maintenance and hours of service violations do not look good to a jury, so the insurance company wants to take on a risk that they would be able to defend. In other words, that means a risk that has a good record of safety.
(For example, an out-of-service violation can be a big problem. It can cost you money. Getting an out-of-service violation means you’re losing money while you wait for the vehicle to be placed back in service. You might face some hefty fines, and you lose money because your insurance rates will likely suffer.)
Violations, to an insurance company, look like you don’t run a tight operation, whether that’s with respect to maintenance or paperwork. If a hot-shot driver gets a violation for driving a vehicle over 26,000 pounds without a CDL, it doesn’t look good. To the insurance company, what other rules could the driver be bending?
The bottom line is this: planning ahead and preventing problems when it comes to your DOT inspections can help you avoid fines, lost income, and even higher insurance rates.
Tips for smoother DOT inspections.
There are a few things you can do to have better DOT inspections. This can be a stressful situation, which is why it’s important to train your drivers on how to handle it.
1. Make sure your drivers know to do walk-arounds of the truck.
Your drivers need to do walkarounds of their truck every time they hit the road. They should look at the lights to make sure they are all working. They should check that there are no holes in the lights. They should check that all the flaps are in place, and they should check that the tires are inflated properly. Even if the driver did a walk-around in the morning, they should do another walk-around if they’ve stopped for their break. If you’ve been on the road for hours, something could have happened during that time – for example, a lightbulb burning out.
2. Make sure your drivers are prepared.
Preparation is key, so make sure that your drivers have what they need in case there’s an inspection. It can help everyone have a better inspection – both the driver and the inspector.
Your drivers should have a little box that has some extra supplies for minor repairs. They should have things like extra fuses and extra lightbulbs so that they can make quick repairs if they need to. That way they won’t be stuck on the side of the road waiting for someone to bring them a spare lightbulb if one burned out. (And you have to make sure they know how to make these quick fixes, too.)
They also need to have their ELD record, logbook, and backup records for hours of service ready in case of an inspection. Everything should be organized. It’s not a bad idea for them to have a folder or box containing all the documentation they might need – like maintenance records, the DOT’s annual inspection report, their medical card, and the insurance card.
3. Make sure that your drivers know how to interact with the DOT officer.
You also need to talk to your drivers about interacting with the DOT officer. A few quick tips:
- Be polite and respectful.
- Don’t exit the truck until instructed by the officer.
- Say “Yes sir, no sir” and “Yes ma’am, no ma’am.”
- Don’t argue. If the driver is missing paperwork or if they disagree with the DOT officer, they should know to call the carrier ASAP.
Bottom line: if your driver is prepared with their documentation, treats the DOT officer with respect, and follows instructions, the day will go better for everyone. (You can always file disputes within 14 days.)
4. Have a DOT portal so you’re alerted about inspections.
You should have a DOT portal alert set up so that you’re aware when one of your vehicles is inspected. It’s important to stay on top of these inspections and to be aware of the results of these inspections. If something needs to be addressed as far as the results of the inspection, it’s best to address it as quickly as possible, as the likelihood of getting corrections made diminishes after the 14-day period.
That is why DOT inspections are such a big deal. They can have a major effect on your insurance, but they can cost you money in other ways, too. Make sure to train your drivers on how to do walk-arounds of the truck, how to interact with the DOT officer, and what to do if there is an issue. You can spare both your driver and yourself some stress by doing this.