April 28, 2023
The Six Levels Of DOT Inspections You Need To Know
What to Know About the DOT’s Six Inspection Levels
Safety inspections are part of the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) experience. There’s no way around it. But here’s a key tip for road rookies: you can get pulled over at any time by U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) officials. It doesn’t matter if you’re driving a long stretch across state lines, find yourself at a rest stop, or have stopped at a restaurant to eat while your rig hangs in the parking lot — an inspection could happen anytime, anywhere. Though it feels inconvenient at times, these inspections are the DOT’s way of keeping you and other drivers safe during a haul.
If you’re not prepared with the right documentation, you can get fined or get a citation, or both. Plus, it will impact your overall safety rating score (also known as your Compliance, Safety, and Accountability score or CSA score). The CSA scores help other owner-operators and industry professionals flag high-risk companies and drivers to make sure drivers are putting safety first. If you’re out of service (OOS) because you failed an inspection, you’ll have to wait sometime before your CSA score bounces back.
Here’s everything you need to know about the six levels of inspection to help you be a safer and more efficient driver.
Level 1: North American standard inspection
This inspection is one you want to pay attention to, mainly because it’s one of the most common inspections you’ll come across when you’re on the job and it’s the most intrusive. With this inspection, the official will take a look at driving features and parts on your CMV to make sure they’re working properly. This could include your suspension, battery, tires, seat belts, brakes, wipers, and even how well your cargo safety design functions. Another basic item they’ll check is if all of your vehicle lights are on and working (think blinkers, brake lights, front lights, etc.).
The goal of this inspection is to flag any worn-out parts or areas that you may need to fix. Once they’re done with the vehicle, they’ll move to the driver to find out some information. Do you wear your seat belt? Are you a sober driver? Do you use a logbook and can you prove it’s up-to-date? Is your license expired? Where are your hazardous material endorsements?
Overall, this inspection can take a significant amount of time — in most cases up to an hour— so go into it with patience and the right mindset.
Level 2: ‘Walk-around’ driver / vehicle inspection
This level doesn’t take nearly as long to complete as level 1, maybe a half hour tops. The “walk around” name comes from how the inspection is performed. The official will physically walk around the vehicle to look for issues. They won’t usually check out anything underneath, though; the scope here really sticks to what an official can notice from walking the perimeter. This includes taking a look at your vehicle and any attached equipment that you are transporting.
Level 3: Driver-only inspection
This inspection pays special attention to yours truly: you, the driver. Your paperwork and overall credentials are big here, but this is probably the shortest inspection so if you’re in a rush, it’s the best one to have to go through.
The official will check out certain documents and look for things you haven’t kept up-to-date or renewed. These can include (but aren’t limited to):
- Your license and any other supporting documentation like endorsements.
- Your Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) and any other documents that show proof of passing past inspections.
- Your Electronic Logging Device (ELD) records your truck’s mileage — if it’s required. Remember, this took the place of a traditional paper log. The good news is that they can speed up an inspection and minimize inaccuracies since they’re dependable record keepers.
- Your Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations. CDL drivers may not need to complete a log if they don’t drive more than 150 miles from the terminal, but the company must keep records of their hours. If you get a violation on HOS regulations, this is a big deal because it means you may have put other folks in danger.
- Your medical cards and other personal or health-related information.
Level 4: Special inspection
This level is the least common. There’s no real way to estimate the time it takes to complete this level since it’s really up to the official on what to check. Typically, the official will focus on one area or item to look over. It’s usually a one-time thing and pretty straightforward.
Level 5: Vehicle-only inspection
For this level, you aren’t present. The official will follow the same inspection guidelines in Level 1 and focus on the vehicle only. This shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.
Level 6: Enhanced NAS inspection for radioactive shipments
If you’re hauling radioactive freight, such as medical waste, this might be a common inspection for you.
For about an hour, the official will combine the Level 1 checklist with a radioactive-specific checklist to make sure things are safe for the road. If you pass the inspection, you get a special radioactive symbol decal to display until you’re done hauling the cargo. This inspection is likely to take place before you start your journey since transporting radioactive shipments requires extra safety precautions from start to finish.
Motor Carrier HQ coaches are making sure safety comes first when you’re out on the road. For a complete list of items to keep front and center, check out Motor Carrier HQ’s blog on DOT’s compliance checklist. If you have more questions, send them an email! They want your trips to be successful because they’re interested in helping with your business needs for the long haul.