If you are a property or passenger carrying carrier then chances are you are going to have a couple DOT inspections during your career. In 2021 there were over 1,800,000 inspections performed by the DOT and enforcement officials in the US. The DOT performs these inspections to make sure that drivers are acting responsibly and protecting themselves and others while out on the public roadways.
Depending on what the event was that triggered an inspection, the level of involvement needed by the DOT officer will fall under 1 out of the 8 levels of DOT inspections. All inspections are logged in the FMCSA's Safety Management System (SMS) whether a violations is issued or not. Clean inspections can improve a carrier's SMS data.
Understanding the different levels of DOT inspections can help you understand what is important in keeping compliance the FMCSA regulations. If a violation is discovered during any of these inspections they will have an impact on your carriers CSA score.
During an inspection, DOT officials are looking to enforce the 7 Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories or BASICs. These cover everything from the drivers responsibilities to the integrity of the equipment they are using.
Level I Inspection: North American Standard Inspection
The level 1 inspection is the most involved of all the DOT inspections levels. If you are getting a level 1 inspection you can expect the DOT official to review all of your documents as well as an inspection of your vehicle and cargo.
This type of inspection can take up to 60 minutes to complete and will require the DOT official to get under the truck and trailer to really examine critical parts of your equipment.
Vehicle maintenance issues are the most common violations issued by the DOT. If you do not have a preventative maintenance plan in place or not performing pre-trip inspections you may be at risk of getting a vehicle maintenance violation.
The following items should be available for review:
- An electronic logging device (ELD) for logging hours of service
- Alcohol and drugs usage
- Medical certificate confirming the operator passed their annual DOT physical exam
Vehicle parts that should be ready for an inspection:
Brake systems and tires
Exhaust system and fuel system
Emergency exits and/or electrical cables
Headlamps, stop lamps, brake lamps, and tail lamps
Load securment (chains, straps, tarps etc)
Wheels, rims, and hubcaps
Level II Inspection: Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection
The Level 2 inspection is less intense than a level 1 inspection. Your documents will most likely still get reviewed for verification but does not require an in-depth look at whole truck and trailer. This means that the DOT inspector will most likely not get under the equipment.
This is a quicker type of inspection and may take up to 20-30 minutes to complete.
Level III Inspection: Driver/Credential/Administrative Inspection
The Level 3 inspection only covers all of the areas dealing with the driver. There will be a review of credentials, paperwork, inspections and fitness.
The type of violations that would get issued at the inspection level would be
Here are the documents that drivers should have prepared in case of a level 3 inspection.
Record of Duty Status (RODS)
Medical card and waiver
Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) certificate
Alcohol or drug use
Level IV Inspection: Special Inspections
The Level IV inspection includes a one-time examination of a specific vehicle feature. This inspection level is typically carried out on a trend the DOT wants to conduct further research on.
This level of inspection is typically performed during a safety blitz scheduled by the CVCA or FMCSA.
Level V Inspection: Vehicle-Only Inspection
The level 5 inspection is very similar to a level 1 inspection except the driver is not present during the inspection. The reason for this could be that the driver is taken to a hospital following a crash or on the way to jail for being under the influence.
Level V inspections can take up to 45 minutes to complete.
Level VI Inspection: North American Standard Inspection for Transuranic Waste and Highway Route Controlled Quantities (HRCQ) of Radioactive Material
This inspection is used for certain radiological shipments. Certain radiological shipments only comprise highway route-controlled quantities set by the DOT.
The vehicle, drivers, and cargo must all pass this inspection before departing.
A special nuclear symbol will be attached to the CMV to indicate it passed a Level VI inspection. This nuclear symbol is only valid for one trip and will be added at the origin of the load and removed upon arriving at the destination.
The Level VI inspection will typically take up to 60 minutes to complete.
Level VII Inspection: Jurisdictional Mandated Commercial Vehicle Inspection
The level 7 inspection is a jurisdictional mandated inspection program that does not meet the requirements of any other level of inspection.
This kind of inspection can include inspections for vehicles like school buses, limos, taxis, shared-ride transportation, hotel courtesy shuttles and other intrastate/intra-provincial operations.
Level VIII Inspection: North American Standard Electronic Inspection
The level 8 inspection does not involve direct interaction with a safety officer and is typically conducted wirelessly while the vehicle is in motion. This type of inspection may be done by using data on an electronic logging device.
To qualify as a roadside Level 8 inspection, the data exchange must include all of the following data points:
- A descriptive location including GPS coordinates
- Electronic validation of the vehicle’s operator
- Driver’s license class and endorsement for the vehicle being operated
- License status
- Medical Examiner’s Certificate Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) Certificate
- Record of Duty Status
- Hours of Service compliance
- USDOT number
- Power unit registration
- Operating authority
- Unified Carrier Registration compliance
- Federal out-of-service orders