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Truck Topics

Getting Through a DOT Inspection

By Sandy Long
Posted Oct 27th 2014 3:32AM

The longer one drives, the greater the chances of being pulled over on the roadside or around the scale to go through a DOT inspection. For most, this is a stressful occurrence even if one thinks everything is fine; will the DOT inspector find something minor that has been missed, or as some think, will he/she ‘make’ something wrong to be able to write a ticket. Getting through a DOT inspection first requires that one knows the different levels of inspection, there are six.

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1) Level I: North American Standard Inspection

This part of the check looks at important documents such as at the vehicle operator’s driver license, medical certificate and waiver and hours of service. The professional conducting the evaluation will also inspect the seat belt, exhaust system, turn signals, tail lamps, head lamps, steering wheel, brakes, wheels and rims, and air and fuel systems.

2) Level II:Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection

Level II inspections involve examining everything in the level I inspection with exception of the parts that involve the inspector getting under the CMV.

3) Level III:Driver-Only Inspection

During this check, the inspector will take an in-depth look at the vehicle operator’s driver’s license, medical certification and daily log.

4) Level IV: Special Inspection

These are one-time examinations that take a close look at a specific item. They are typically scheduled to invalidate a previous claim about a vehicle.

5) Level V: Vehicle-Only Inspection

Level V inspections look at everything specified under Level I. The only difference is that they are executed without the driver present.

6) Level VI:Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments

This inspection is used for certain radiological shipments. Select radiological shipments only comprise highway route controlled quantities set forth by DOT’s title 49 section 173.403.

There has been a myth for years that when one is called around a scale for any level of inspection to only take in the bills and permit book, leave the log book in the truck until told to bring it in. However, it is better to take all paperwork in with you from the start; this shows that one has nothing to hide and a good attitude.

A good attitude is the most important thing a driver brings to the inspection process. The DOT officer is not trying to ruin your day, just trying to do his/her job and keep both you and the motoring public safe. If you look at it like it takes more than one head to keep you safe, then you can meet the officer with a smile, which in turn can pay off in spades for you if he/she finds a minor thing wrong that does not affect safety per se; a verbal warning garners no points on CSA.

Usually, full truck inspections start out with you taking your paperwork inside to be checked. You then will be directed to go to the truck and either pull through an inspection bay or wait for the DOT officer to come to your truck. They will then direct you, while you are in the truck, to turn the lights, flashers and turn signals off and on, apply the brakes, horn and wipers. They will have you pump the brakes to check how long it takes to drain the air and for the buzzer to go off. You may have to pull the hood open for them for a visual inspection of the engine compartment. The inspector will go under the truck and trailer to do a visual check on brake adjustment and check airlines, shackles etc. for damage and leaks. A full inspection usually takes about thirty minutes.

In some states, inspections are roadside or where you will be pulled in a rest area. If a DOT officer or state trooper is pulling you over on the shoulder, turn your flashers on and stay in your truck unless told to get down; do not remove your seatbelt until the officer sees it on. Have your license, permit book, bills of lading and medical card out. Keep your hands in plain sight, preferably on the steering wheel and do not reach for anything without telling the officer that you are going to do so. Remember to keep a good attitude with the officer at all times.

If on the shoulder, the officer will most likely step up on your passenger side away from traffic, and yes, they may open the door. They do this for two reasons, one to make sure that nothing is impeding the movement of your feet or the pedals and two, to make sure there are no weapons below eye level. There are some reports of DOT officers waking a driver up in rest areas; however, most of these seem to be when a driver is parked on the shoulder or in the car parking areas. There is no regulation preventing them from waking a driver up to do an inspection, though few officers will do so.

Many drivers do not understand two controversial areas during an inspection. The first is if an inspector or officer is allowed inside the truck or sleeper. Yes, they are. One of the criteria in the regs that they can use is to make sure there are no holes in the floor to allow exhaust to come in; another is that the sleeper have the proper mattress and ventilation. The other controversial area is whether an officer can wake up a sleeping co-driver. Yes, they can. For the above reasons if nothing else, but also to make sure that the co-driver is authorized by the company and by looking at their license and log book to make sure they match yours. Most inspectors/officer will not wake a co-driver unless they feel there may be something out of order.

DOT inspections are part of being a truck driver and something that has to be faced and dealt with. Knowledge of what is expected of you during the inspection, keeping a good attitude with your dealings with the inspector/officer and doing good pre and post trips yourself can make an official inspection if not pleasant, at least bearable.

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