What to expect from a DOT Audit
Updated: Jan 10
Whether it is your first DOT Audit or the first that you have been through in a while, it is important to know what the auditor will be looking for so you know how to handle the audit process.
Regardless if you've been keeping up with your record keeping and following all the rules and regulations laid out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, it is human instinct to be nervous as the audit approaches.
Audits are conducted regularly to ensure that companies operating commercial motor vehicles are operating safely and properly under the rules and the regulations laid out by the FMCSA. However, audits have been steadily increasing since 2010 due to the introduction of the Safety Management System gathering data from roadside inspections and checkpoints. Companies are given a Compliance Safety and Accountability (CSA) rating based on the information collected during those inspections. Higher rated companies will have more violations and can expect to get inspected more often.
DOT Audit and Why it is Needed
Many companies are surprised when they receive letters from the Department of Transportation (DOT) notifying them of an impending audit or asking for proof of insurance. However, many companies fall under the authority of the FMCSA. For example, construction and manufacturing companies are almost always operating commercial vehicles as part of their business operations, whether they are aware of that or not.
If any part of your business includes transporting people or goods across state lines, in commercial or private vehicles, and those vehicles have a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 10,000 lbs or more, then you fall under federal motor carrier safety standards. Additionally, you are subject to DOT audits.
New Entrant Review
A new entrant review is an inspection performed by the DOT to ensure that the new business is in compliance with federal regulations before it can begin selling products or services across state lines. The business must have been operating for at least one year prior to receiving a DOT license and completing the new entrant review. Prior to the new entrant review, it is recommended that the business is completing self auditing processes or hiring a third party to do a compliance review or mock audit to see where the company stands.
Formal Compliance Review
Several different factors can trigger a formal compliance review:
Crash Rate: The DOT requires that commercial motor vehicle operators maintain an average 1.5 crash rate for each driver. If one or more of your drivers exceeds the average crash rate, the DOT may conduct a compliance review.
Citizens' Complaint: Occasionally citizens can and will file a complaint against drivers who are driving aggressively or who cut them off in heavy congestion, most of these complaints come from disgruntled workers. Their claims are usually based on aspects of your company they believe will be difficult to defend.
A critical incident: This occurs when a driver for your company is involved in a serious accident. An example of a critical incident would be if a truck overturns spilling the load onto an interstate highway and causing traffic delays for several days.
Random selection: Sometimes everything will be going just fine and the DOT will notify you that it is your turn for a compliance review. You just never know when an audit might happen, which is why it is best to be prepared all the time so that you don't have to scramble when the time does come.
Checklist During a DOT Audit
When DOT auditors conduct an audit of a company, they usually cover several important areas that include, but aren't limited to:
General DOT Information
You will be required to provide proof of insurance for all your vehicles and the goods they're hauling. This includes all appropriate forms, such as the MC-90, for inspections. Also, the auditor will need access to your company's Accidental Report Book. This is checked to make sure that your company is maintaining accurate reports of any crashes your drivers had been involved in.
Even if your company has not been involved in any accidents, you are still required to keep an up-to-date Accidental Report Book. You must maintain a report of any and all incidents determined "accidental" by the FMCSRs in the book for three years from the day it happened.
The DOT will also examine your driver training program. Remember, the FMCA requires you to teach not just your drivers but everyone else working for you who is involved with compliance. The guidelines as for the required trainings can be found here. We recommend using Front Range Compliance for your DOT Training, or online through DOT University.
Driver Qualification Files
The Driver Qualification (DQ) file covers licenses, qualifications, and testing for drugs and alcohol. This file shows the DOT that your drivers have the correct licenses for the class of vehicle they operate and hold the appropriate endorsements.
Drug and Alcohol Testing Program
You are required by the FMCSA to have and maintain a drug and alcohol testing policy. This policy should be in writing, and all drivers should be made aware of it. You should have a signed receipt from each driver, indicating that they have received and read the policy. One of the fastest ways that you can get an unsatisfactory mark during an audit is to have a neglected drug and alcohol testing program or not have one at all. Even if you have only had a driver for a short amount of time, the auditor will need to see that you have tried to obtain three years’ worth of drug and alcohol testing information from their previous employers. This can be done through the FMCSA Clearinghouse.
Obtaining this information isn't always possible, but you need to show that you made an attempt. Does one of your employees have a problem with drugs or alcohol? Did one of your employees fail a drug or alcohol test? You don't want to fire them but to help them with rehabilitation? You aren't required to terminate their employment, however you must show documentation about their treatment, the completion of a program, when they returned to driving, and any follow-up tests you have done. This will be done through a Return to Duty (RTD) process with a Substance Abuse Professional. Find more information here.
If you do not already have a drug and alcohol policy/program in place, I highly recommend checking out Front Range Compliance Services' drug and alcohol program management service to see how we can help your company.
Drivers of CMVs are bound by driving limitations and hours of service (HOS) regulations. DOT auditors will need to review these logs and all supporting documentation. You must maintain either an electronic or paper log for each driver. If you need recommendations on which log to use, contact us. Driver logs should contain four basic statuses:
Off-duty: The driver isn’t working
On duty: The driver is working but not driving, including refueling and loading freight.
The sleeper berth: the resting area for the driver while the vehicle is not in motion.
Driving: The driver is operating the vehicle.
If drivers violate the HOS rules, they may face consequences. These rules regulate how many hours a driver can work and when they are required to take breaks. For example, a driver cannot drive for more than 11 hours in one day, must take a 30-minute break every eight hours, and must take a 10-hour break every 14 hours. There are sometimes exceptions put in place for specific industries during specific times. However unless those exceptions specifically relate to you or your company, then it is safest to operate under the HOS rules listed above.
The auditor will check each vehicle for the proper markings required by the DOT. This includes annual inspection stickers, USDOT Number and company name.
When operating a vehicle, you must be aware of the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations, and the consequences of HOS violations. These rules set the maximum number of hours a driver can operate a vehicle in a day, as well as when they are required to take breaks. For example, a driver cannot drive for more than 11 hours in one day and must take a 30-minute break every eight hours. These records must be maintained for at least a year.
Need More Help?
If the above information answered some of your questions, but you still have more that need answered contact Nicole at (970) 646-1050.
Until then, make sure to check out our online DOT Training platform, DOT University! We currently are offering Reasonable Suspicion for Supervisors, Cargo Securement, Defensive Driving, and Pre/Post Trip Inspection. In the coming months we plan on releasing Designated Employer Representative, and Appendix A.
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