What is a DOT audit?
A DOT audit, conducted by the Department of Transportation, is an assessment that determines if a fleet is following all the safety protocols outlined by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
These kinds of FMCSA safety audits can cover a variety of topics, including safety compliance and proper recordkeeping. Auditors may request information on specific areas including fleet insurance levels and driver logbooks, amongst others.
The DOT audit process can sometimes take weeks and may require follow-ups where auditors request the transmission of additional information or documentation. When the DOT audit has been completed, the fleet will receive a compliance review report that addresses areas of concern and provides recommendations for additional compliance, along with tips on how to improve future audit performance.
DOT audits are typically conducted in three ways:
- Remote/offsite investigation: Requires carriers to provide copies of documents to a reviewer/investigator who then does their work remotely.
- More focused onsite investigation: Typically carried out onsite to evaluate a specific safety or compliance issue.
- Comprehensive onsite investigation: This onsite review entails a comprehensive review of the entire operation of the carrier’s fleet and can include employee interviews and vehicle inspections.
Inspection categories of a DOT safety audit
There are various categories included in a DOT safety audit, each important in its own way. Here’s a list with details of each:
General DOT safety
This DOT audit category assesses whether the fleet carrier has adequate insurance and explores all types of cargo being transported.
For this assessment, the fleet manager must provide all records pertaining to the drivers in their fleets, including things like licensing, driver qualification records, potential training requirements, and drug and alcohol testing results.
Fleets are asked to provide six months of logs and supporting documents. Areas of examination include hours of service violations, form and manner errors, and any falsification of logs.
To comply with this DOT safety audit category, records from inspections for each vehicle must be provided. Inspections should have occurred every 30 days for each vehicle. In addition, vehicle information like year, model, ID number, and tire size must be included. Vehicle assessment records must be maintained and kept for one year for each vehicle in the carrier's fleet.
Hazardous materials reporting
Licensing, storage information, placards, and labels are all part of the reporting process for hazardous materials transport. In addition, fleets must provide proof of driver training for any employee transporting these materials.
Occurrence of accidents
Records of all driver accidents, including any injuries, must be provided for review during a DOT audit.
DOT audit evaluation scores
Each category in the DOT safety audit is assessed with one of three grades:
1. Satisfactory: The FMCSA has reviewed all necessary information and deemed that the fleet has adequate measures and management controls in place to comply with federal regulations and requirements.
2. Conditional: At least one infraction has been detected during the DOT audit. While this rating requires work on at least one violation or non-compliance issue, it also means that the company does NOT post an imminent threat to safety and will NOT face any out-of-service orders; however, they may incur financial penalties because of this rating.
This rating can be reassessed if the company provides corrective actions, along with a Safety Management Plan that is deemed acceptable by auditors at the FMCSA.
3. Unsatisfactory: The FMCSA has found what they deem to be serious violations and/or non-compliance issues that have the potential to cause serious safety hazards.
In addition to financial penalties incurred, fleets who receive this designation must prove corrective action by submitting an upgrade request or a Safety Management Plan within 60 days for property carriers or 45 days for passenger/hazmat carriers. Failure to do so will result in a designation of out-of-service.
How to prepare for a DOT audit
Preparing for a DOT audit isn’t something you only think about when you’re notified of a pending review by the FMCSA. Long before an audit happens, each fleet must maintain proper documentation to ensure that they are ready with the proper information and records when the FMCSA requests a fleet audit.
But it takes more than just recordkeeping. To prepare for a DOT audit, fleets must continually monitor CSA scores (Compliance, Safety, Accountability), coach their drivers to maintain and improve overall safety, and ensure that records and logs completed by employees are up-to-date and ready to hand over.
In addition to these important steps, many fleets employ fleet management solutions such as fleet safety solutions and DOT compliance software to help them maintain records through technologies like Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) and electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs).
To take it a step further, fleets must be aware of the elements that make up a DOT safety audit checklist. Having this handy checklist will help you be ready when the time comes.
DOT audit checklist
Passing a DOT audit will be much easier if your fleet is aware of the basic requirements needed before an audit.
Making sure you know how to pass a DOT audit requires forward-thinking strategies. Keep the following safety audit checklist handy to ensure your fleet has all the records it needs to meet compliance.
- FMCSR guidelines: This regulations guide from the FMCSA will help you understand what can sometimes be complicated and confusing parameters necessary for compliance. You can also print a copy of FMCSA Regulations and Interpretations here.
- MCS-90 form: All carriers must maintain the proper levels of fleet insurance. This form is the Endorsement for Motor Carrier Policies of Insurance for Public Liability under Sections 29 and 30 of the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.
- Policy for drug and alcohol use testing: A drug and alcohol testing protocol is necessary to pass a DOT audit. Make sure to keep records of pre-employment drug and alcohol testing, random tests conducted over time, in addition to any post-accident testing.
- Motor vehicle records: These MVRs must be maintained for three years for any fleet driver. To ensure you have the most accurate information, you must request this information every year.
- CDL proof for all drivers: Keeping current records of commercial driver's licenses for all your drivers is imperative, along with the proper endorsements.
- Driver logs: Logs that demonstrate hours of service (HOS) and ELD requirements must be maintained at all times.
- Vehicle list: An up-to-date list of all vehicles in the fleet that includes their VIN, license plate numbers, state registration information, tire size, and documentation of updated vehicle inspections must be ready to present.
- Vehicle maintenance records: Keeping track of all service and maintenance schedules for each vehicle goes a long way. Records must be kept for each vehicle for one year while the vehicle is in service and for six months after the vehicle is no longer being used.
- DOT security plan: Any vehicles transporting hazardous materials will require a DOT security plan that outlines ways you minimize risk factors, prevent access to unauthorized personnel, and ensure employees follow proper training protocols.
- Post-trip inspection records: Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIRs) detailing any vehicle safety issues that drivers note during their trips over time. These reports must be maintained for three months and must contain either one or three signatures to remain in compliance.
DOT safety audit failure violations
There are many ways that a fleet can fail any of the six categories in the DOT safety audit. Examples of infractions that could lead to unsatisfactory scores include the following.
Keep in mind that this list does not include all infractions that could result in an unsatisfactory score during a DOT safety audit:
- Failure to report regular alcohol and drug testing
- Allowing a driver to continue working after refusing an alcohol or drug test
- Using a driver who does not have the proper licensing, who has been disqualified, or is medically unqualified
- Operating vehicles without the proper insurance levels or required logbooks of all trips
- Operating an out-of-service vehicle before all repairs have been completed
- Operating a vehicle that has not undergone annual inspection
Understanding how to pass a DOT safety audit is easy if you have a company policy that includes regular inspections of vehicles, compliance measures with employees, and the necessary paperwork to back up every aspect of the DOT safety audit inspection process.
Turn to Lytx for all your DOT audit and fleet safety needs
Today’s fleet managers know that safety and precision recordkeeping are an integral part of their job. To help keep your vehicles and drivers compliant, Lytx has a set of comprehensive solutions that will help you comply with DOT audits and keep your drivers safe and on the road.