Truck Topics

The Roadside Inspection

By Jeff Jensen, Editor
Posted Apr 30th 2007 3:17AM

dot-truck.jpgRoadside inspections are part of life for professional drivers.  The main purpose of roadside inspections is to give the commercial motor vehicle and its driver an on-the-spot safety check.  If you've never undergone a D.O.T. inspection, relax.  It's not the end of the world.

If you know your truck and you're sure it's ready for inspection, it will make the stop little more than a slight delay.  With some two million inspections performed annually, you can figure that most survive and you will, too.

The most important thing a driver can do to be ready for inspections say drivers who know, is to have a clean truck.

The goal is to simply not get noticed and it's unlikely that a relatively clean vehicle with shiny chrome will attract the same kind of safety-related scrutiny that a filthy, grime-covered truck will.

How a driver conducts himself at a roadside inspection can make a difference in how constructive and positive the inspection experience turns out to be.  Generally, drivers should act in a professional, courteous manner when asked to participate in a roadside inspection. 

Few things will arouse the interest or suspicion of an inspector more than a rude, disrespectful driver with a defensive or combative attitude operating a dirty vehicle. 

The idea of "looking good" applies to the driver's appearance as well.  A neat, well-groomed driver will exude a confident, professional demeanor that will go a long way in establishing a sense of respect from an inspector.

There are some simple guidelines that will help get you through the inspection process and knowing how inspections work is an important one.
There are five levels of inspection:
Level One is the most comprehensive and includes a thorough vehicle and paperwork review. It will take about an hour.

Level Two inspections do not require the inspector to get under the vehicle, but other requirements are the same.

Level Three is a paperwork inspection.

Level Four is the inspection of a particular item like brakes.

Level Five is an inspection that takes place at the carrier. Only the

Level One will give you an inspection sticker.

During an inspection, drivers should not be afraid to ask questions or share basic information with an inspector.  However, watch what you say!  A seemingly innocent comment might be viewed as a red flag by inspectors that further investigation of the driver might be warranted.

Be aware of the Uniform Out-of-Service Criteria. It includes brake system, coupling devices, pintle hooks, frame, exhaust system, fuel system, lighting, load securement, steering mechanism, suspension, tires, wheels, rims and hubs, windshield wipers, placarding and logs. Cross check this list when you do your pre-trip.

Required documentation
*Medical Certificate (including any waivers)
*Log Book
*Proof of periodic inspection documentation
*All load-related paperwork including Bill of Lading, Emergency Response Information (For Hazmat shipments)

The more you know about what the inspector is doing, the better off you will be. On the other hand, using your knowledge to question the inspector is probably not the best idea. A combative attitude is an invitation to the inspector to make the outcome of any level inspection worse for you.

Know your inspection rights and ask appropriate questions. It also helps to show inspectors the same respect you would like them to show you.

When the inevitable happens, however, and an inspector finds faults, drivers need to control their attitudes.   The level of inspection has a great deal to do with the inspector’s attitude and he responds appropriately.

"A lot of inspectors will do the low level inspections in a very relaxed mood,” says one driver. “You can joke around with them. But the more important inspections make inspectors serious and you have to just be quiet and follow directions."

The five most common violation areas are:

*brakes out of adjustment

*other brake problems


*tires and wheels

*load securement

From the drivers
In his twenty-plus years of professional driving (general trucking and expediting), Gene Dunlap, a straight truck owner-operator, has been through the roadside inspection process more than a few times.  "Sometimes, four of them in a year," he says.

Loyel Hershberger, expedited tractor-trailer owner-operator says that he and wife Carolyn experienced a Level 1 inspection as recently as Thanksgiving week of last year - the first Level 1 in his 10-year driving career.

"We've gotten the shorter roadside inspections in Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states, but the Level 1 in New Mexico was pretty comprehensive."

These veteran drivers' tips for surviving a roadside inspection include:

Log Books
Dunlap - "Make sure your log book is current and neat, they'll go through it with a fine-tooth comb.  During a Level I inspection, I had an FMCSA inspector spend a half-hour on my log book alone."

Hershberger - "They gave our logs a pretty good look as well.  We're very careful to keep our logs up to date to the last change of duty status, so we didn't anticipate any trouble there.  When we hand the book over, we always have it turned to the current page to make it easier for the inspectors."

Dunlap -"If your paperwork's in order, the next thing they're going to hit hard are your brakes and brake adjustment.  A note of caution:  Automatic brake adjusters don't always work.  I've been caught twice with brakes out of adjustment because I relied on the automatic adjusters.  Both times it was faulty adjusters."

Dunlap-"Make sure all your lights are working (those are pretty obvious defects)"

Hershberger - "Carolyn and I have a habit of stopping around dusk for a few minutes and doing a quick walk-around to check all the lights.  We try to do everything in our power to find problems before a D.O.T. man does."

Tires and Wheels
Dunlap-"Bald tires and sidewall damage are an invitation for a thorough inspection."

Hershberger - "It's not a bad idea to hit the tires with some dressing and shine them up a little."

Load Securement
Hershberger - "In our most recent Level 1 inspection, we had a Haz-Mat load on, so the inspectors broke the seal, inspected the trailer and cargo from front to back, then replaced the seal with their own."  

Inspection stickers
Dunlap-"I have Panther award stickers on the side of the truck and those don't hurt."

Hershberger - "While it's no guarantee that you won't be inspected again, if you have a current CVSA sticker on the truck, they might pass you through."

He continues, "I'm pretty picky about the mechanical aspects of my equipment When I'm home, I'll get out the creeper and get under the truck and look for indications of problems." 

"I believe that one key is to keep the truck clean.  That doesn't mean to wash it every day, but I give it a good cleaning at least once a week.  You probably won't be as likely to be a candidate for a random inspection if your equipment looks decent."

"I've never had any real big issues with any of the inspections that I've gone through.  I find that if you treat the officers with respect and courtesy, it will be returned.  Answer their questions honestly, but don't volunteer information."