Department of Transportation Truck (DOT) Inspections

The Department of Transportation (DOT) is charged with maintaining the safety of transportation systems in the United States, and every year, it conducts inspections on commercial motor vehicles (CMV) to this effect. All CMVs that weigh more than 10,000 pounds are subjected to Department of Transportation Truck (DOT) Inspections to check their working and safety conditions.

DOT inspections are a big deal to truck owners and carrier companies because failing them can result in audits, fines, and clearance revocations by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). This article reviews the inspections and what you must know to pass them.

What Is a DOT inspection?

A DOT inspection is an official annual check conducted on commercial motor vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 pounds to ensure that they are in good working condition are safe to use. The check also determines whether the driver is fit to be operating the truck. Generally, these inspections are carried out by DOT inspectors that can pull you over at any time, but you can also get one from a certified agent at a local shop.

Who Plays a Role in DOT Inspections?

As the name suggests, the Department of Transportation oversees DOT inspections. That said, the following parties are also often involved:

  • State troopers who perform DOT inspections
  • CVSA – The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance was in charge of formulating the inspection programs
  • FMCSA – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is in charge of funding and overseeing all inspections.

6 Levels of DOT Truck Inspections

DOT Inspections are categorized into six levels, which are:

Level I: North American Standard Inspection

The first level of the inspection involves a check for any hazardous materials, alcohol, or drugs that might be present in the vehicle, as well as the driver’s documents. The state trooper or DOT inspector performing this inspection will look at many things, including:

  • The driver’s license, hours of service, daily log, medical card, and inspection report
  • The vehicle inspection report and waiver
  • Federal hazmat requirements
  • Vehicle accessories and parts, e.g., brakes, brake lamps, frame, headlamps, fuel system, exhaust system, seatbelt, tires, turn signals, etc.
  • Safety features like emergency exits, lights on projecting loads, cargo securement, and safe loading.

Level II: Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection

The second level of inspection is called the walk-around inspection because the DOT inspector performs the same inspections as in the first level but doesn’t go under the CMV.

Level III: Driver-Only Inspection

During the third level of inspection, the DOT inspector focuses only on the driver by checking the driver’s license, daily log, medical card, inspection report, seatbelt, and incident report.

Level IV: Special Inspection

The fourth level of inspection is done especially to prove or disprove a hypothesis, study, or trend. It focuses on a specific feature of the CMV.

Level V: Vehicle-Only Inspection

The Level V inspection, almost like Level III, only involves checking one aspect; the vehicle. It involves all the inspections of the first level but in the drive’s absence.

Level VI: Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments

The North American Standard Level VI Inspection was formulated by the DOT in 2005 for all CMVs that transport highway route controlled quantities of radioactive material (HRCQ). It involves:

  • Radiological shipment inspections
  • Checking radiological requirements
  • Improvements to the level I
  • Improved out of service criteria

How to Prepare for an Inspection

Getting rated ‘unsatisfactory’ in a DOT inspection has dire consequences, including client blocklisting, fines, increased insurance premiums, and lost clearance. To protect yourself or your company, you should consider the following preparation strategies:

Update Compliance Issues

Compliance is an all-year matter, and it is crucial to keep your requirements up to date to avoid last-minute mistakes. If you run a carrier company, make sure:

  • All truck drivers get the required medical examination and update their medical records.
  • You schedule and oversee vehicle maintenance, repairs, and mechanic inspections.
  • Keep your drivers up to date with legally mandated training.

Assign Duties to Your Staff

DOT inspections review six categories: Driver, General, Operational, Vehicle, Hazardous Materials, and Accidents. Rather than focus on all these areas on your own, assign each category to a team of employees.

Prepare Your Paperwork

A DOT inspection will check all the relevant documents associated with your CMVs. Call your drivers in for a meeting and have them prepare and sign all the relevant papers. Also, review and update your filing system with HOS records and driver qualifications.

Hear from Your Employees

Arrange a meeting and have your employees suggest areas where safety measures can be improved and immediately act on their pain points.

What Happens After the Inspection?

If you pass your DOT inspection, you will receive a DOT inspection sticker or CVSA decal (Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance). The sticker will be color-coded depending on when you received it and will be valid for three months. If you receive a conditional pass, you will be required to fix your problem areas immediately. An out-of-service violation mark, on the other hand, will mean that you can no longer operate the truck. You may also be eligible for citing and fines.

Common Violations

According to a 2019 report, 3 in every 10 drivers taken out of commission due to failing a DOT inspection are cited for problems involving their CMV license. Such problems include driving with an expired or suspended license or using the wrong license class. Other common violations flagged during DOT inspections include:

  • Expired or lack of medical card
  • HOS laws violations
  • Driving with no seatbelts
  • Fuel or transmission fluid leaks
  • Broken lights
  • Poor loading
  • Poor or missing inspection records

Frequently Asked Questions

What do DOT inspections look for?

DOT inspections encompass six categories: Driver, General, Operational, Vehicle, Hazardous Materials, and Accidents. Your inspector will review and rate each category and rate the performance as satisfactory, conditional, or unsatisfactory.


How often is a federal DOT inspection required?

Federal DOT inspections are done every 12 months on commercial motor vehicles.


What will fail a DOT inspection?

A DOT inspector will check everything from your documents (license, medical records, etc.) to the condition and operation of the truck. If they find a problem in one of these areas, they might give you a conditional pass or cite you.


What is a level 7 DOT inspection?

A level VII DOT inspection is done on vehicles that do not meet the criteria in other levels, otherwise called outlier vehicles. These include taxis, limousines, and school buses.

Key Points

One way the Department of Transportation (DOT) ensures safety, efficiency, and accessibility in US transport systems is by conducting annual inspections of CMVs that weigh over 10,000 pounds. These Department of Transportation Truck (DOT) Inspections are done by certified inspectors or state police officers and review the condition, operation, documentation, and state of the driver and vehicle.

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