Preparing for Roadside Inspections

3 Things Officers Want Drivers to Do During (and Before) Roadside Inspections

Roadside inspections can lead to big fines and big delays if your drivers aren’t prepared.

During roadside inspection ramp-ups, officers will generally conduct the North American Standard Level I Inspection, a 37-step procedure that includes an examination of both driver operating requirements and vehicle mechanical fitness.

The Level I vehicle inspection includes checking:

  • Brake systems
  • Cargo securement
  • Coupling devices
  • Driveline/driveshaft components
  • Exhaust systems
  • Frames
  • Fuel systems
  • Lighting devices
  • Steering mechanisms
  • Suspensions, tires
  • Van and open-top trailer bodies
  • Wheels, rims and hubs
  • Windshield wipers

Additional items for buses include:

  • Emergency exits
  • Electrical cables and systems in the engine and battery compartments
  • Passenger seating

Drivers are asked to provide their operating credentials and hours-of-service (HOS) documentation and are checked for seat belt usage. Inspectors also look for apparent alcohol and/or drug impairment.

If there aren’t any critical violations found, the vehicle gets a CVSA decal put on it to indicate that they’ve passed. However, if inspectors find a major violation, carriers could be facing big fines. The driver or the vehicle may even be pulled out of service until the issues are corrected.

To make this process as smooth as possible for everyone involved, we reached out to different inspection agencies across the country and asked how drivers and carriers can better prepare for roadside inspections. Here are the three things they want you to do to make things as easy as possible while avoiding any major violations or delays.

1. Conduct Pre-Trip Inspections

Detailed pre-trip inspections can save you a lot of time and money, especially during inspections.

“Issues with lights, brakes, tires, cargo securement and many other things can be identified before the vehicle hits the road,” said David House from the Oregon Department of Transportation. “Take the time to conduct a thorough pre-trip inspection.”

The FMCSA’s latest report indicates that in 2016:

  • More than 2.3 million vehicle inspections were conducted in the United States.
  • More than 3.6 million vehicle violations were handed out that year.
  • More than 642,000 vehicles were pulled out of service.

“The most common violation found statewide in Iowa during a MCSAP inspection is lighting,” said Captain Scott Knudtson, a supervisor at Motor Vehicle Enforcement in Iowa. “These violations can be reduced dramatically with a good walk-around by the driver before hitting the road.”

In fact, lighting is listed as the number one vehicle violation in 2016, with:

  • Nearly 500,000 tickets handed out for not having operable lamps.
  • More than 114,000 tickets given out for missing or bad reflectors.
  • Over 110,000 tickets issued for broken turn signals.

Other common violations include:

  • Brakes out of adjustment
  • Bald tires
  • No fire extinguisher
  • Bad windshield wipers
  • Missing or insufficient warning devices

Officials recommended having a plan in place for drivers that make pre and post-trip inspections a natural part of their routines. There are tools on the market that help ensure your drivers are doing daily inspections. They offer options like electronic checklists and timed inspections to ensure that drivers are being thorough during their walk-arounds.

Inspectors say operators can also save themselves a lot of time and money by making sure driver licensing requirements are where they need to be; as these are the kinds of problems that can’t be resolved on the side of the road.

“It’s one thing when a load isn’t properly secured,” said Trooper Matt McLaughlin from Nevada’s Highway Patrol. “We can usually tighten that up and get you back on track. But when it’s a major issue like a medical card that expired, that’s not something we can resolve right there; and that means we’ll probably have to pull the driver out of service until it’s fixed.”

The FMCSA reports that in 2016:

  • More than 3.2 million driver inspections were conducted in the United States.
  • Over a million violations were handed out to drivers that year.
  • Nearly 187,000 drivers were pulled out of service.

And many of those violations involved log violations, not wearing a seatbelt or speeding:

  • Over 24,000 drivers were found not to have a Commercial Driving License (CDL).
  • More than 45,000 violations were given to drivers who didn’t have a valid medical certificate.
  • Over 21,000 violations were given to drivers who didn’t have their medical certificate with them.

Officials recommend having someone in-house keep track of licensing and certificate renewals; ensuring your drivers are compliant with federal laws and able to transport shipments without any problems.

2. Know How to Use Your Device

It’s one of the biggest complaints we heard from the field inspectors we spoke with – drivers don’t know what type of logging device they have or how to properly use it.

“ELDs make it almost impossible for drivers to fudge the books,” said Trooper McLaughlin. “However, drivers still don’t know how to pull up their logs or transfer them to us. There are too many machines for us to know how to use all of them, so we find ourselves on the side of the road with the driver trying to teach ourselves how to use it. An inspection that might have taken an hour ends up taking a lot more time when we have to figure these things out in the field.”

“Drivers still don’t know how to pull up their logs or transfer them to us.”

“Electronic Logging Devices have been required since December 2017,” said House. “Drivers need to learn and understand their devices, get training if necessary, and know what to do when the device malfunctions – including keeping a paper log updated if the ELD malfunctions.”

Inspectors say it’s critical that you educate your drivers about the device they’re using. Drivers need to:

  • Know if they have an ELD or an AOBRD installed in their vehicle.
  • Be trained on how to use the device and pull up HOS information during inspections.
  • Have all the supporting documents required for the device with them.

“Get a three-ring binder for every power unit,” said Captain Knudtson. “In it, you can have the truck cab card (registration), IFTA paperwork, truck annual inspection, instruction sheet and user manual for your device, and a supply of blank log sheets in case your device fails.”

There are still a lot of drivers who don’t know if they have an ELD or an AOBRD installed in their vehicle, according to these departments. Carriers that were using AOBRDs before the December 2018 deadline are permitted to continue using them instead of ELDs until December 16, 2019, according to the FMCSA. After that, everyone who tracks HOS will be required to have an ELD installed and be trained on how to use it.

A common misconception is that because an AOBRD is an electronic device that tracks HOS, it’s an Electronic Logging Device. But that’s not the case. One of the main differences is an ELD hooks directly into the ECM of the truck while an ABORD does not.

“It’s still relatively new and we all realize that,” said Captain Knudtson. “For instance, when the rules changed for load securement in 2002 it took everyone a little while to become used to those changes. AOBRDs don’t have to meet the same requirements as ELDs, but there will still be consequences if drivers don’t have what they need for DOT inspections regardless of what device they’re using.”

Drivers are mandated to have certain information in the cab under the ELD rule. Drivers need to have:

  • Instructions on how to use the ELD.
  • Information about the ELD’s data transfer process and step-by-step instructions outlining how to send records to safety officials.
  • Information that explains how to report ELD malfunctions and properly keep alternative records until the problem is fixed.
  • Enough blank driver’s RODS graph grids to record duty status and other relevant information for at least 8 days.

Drivers still using AOBRDs need to follow the regulations laid out by the 1988 AOBRD Rule (49 CFR 395.15) and have:

  • An AOBRD direction card in the cab that outlines how to use the device.
  • At least seven days’ worth of blank paper logs with them in case the AOBRD isn’t working.

All these agencies encourage anyone who doesn’t know how to properly use their device to ask questions. Officials say drivers can really help themselves by being proactive and asking either their carrier or the device manufacturer for help learning how to operate their specific model.

3. Listen to the Inspector

It’s a simple thing that makes a big difference during inspections; listen to what the inspector is saying.

“Follow the officer’s instructions,” said Captain Knudtson. “If you’re unsure about the question, ask the officer again.”

Listening and properly following an inspector’s instructions doesn’t just speed up the inspection process – which can take around 30 to 60 minutes – it keeps everyone safe as it’s being conducted.

“Inspectors spend time around and under your vehicle,” said House. “It is very important to listen and understand the inspector’s directions.”

More simple advice that goes a long way during these inspections: just be polite. Officials say they understand that the process can be stressful, but inspectors aren’t trying to give drivers a hard time; they’re doing their jobs and making sure national highways stay safe for everyone.

Officials also stressed they’re happy to proactively help carriers and drivers better understand and comply with regulations.

“We’re more than happy to talk with them about their issues or answer questions on weight restrictions or registrations,” said Trooper McLaughlin. “Don’t hesitate to ask questions. We’d rather answer the question before the vehicle is stopped for an inspection and it’s a bigger problem.”


Our fleet solutions can help your drivers ace inspections. Schedule your free demo today.

Ashley Benjamin

Ashley Benjamin is a Public Relations and Media Specialist who served as a journalist for nearly a decade. Now, as a Content Specialist at Forward Thinking, Ashley focuses on putting together information that helps businesses better understand complicated industry issues, meet federal regulations, and optimize daily operations.

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