A key piece of the puzzle in the commercial truck industry is understanding and abiding by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and DOT rules and regulations. They have been put in place to not only protect you as a carrier but to keep our roads and its citizens as safe as possible while traveling.
The FMCSA Guidelines are pretty straightforward and as long as you do small daily steps your wheels will continue to keep rolling.
- Have proper authority in place
- New Entrant Safety Audit Passing Paperwork(if applicable)
- Unified Carrier Registration
- Apportioned Plates
- Drug & Alcohol Company Policies in Effect
- Driver Files Up-To-Date
- Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance Policies in Effect
What is DOT Compliance?
You can be compliant with the rules and regulations set in place by the Department of Transportation by keeping up-to-date with what they need as well as having all paperwork or electronic files in order. This will include all of your driver files, vehicle inspections, and maintenance files, audit paperwork, IFTAs, drug and alcohol testing results, and Electronic or Paper logs. Taking small steps each day will make this task much easier than waiting for an inspection or audit to come through.
What DOT Compliance Applies to Drivers?
Whether you are a company driver or an owner-operator you need to be aware and keep updated records in case of a DOT inspection. Anytime that you are on the road you can be pulled over for any level of DOT Inspection (from 1-6) and it is imperative that your paperwork is up-to-date. This paperwork includes your current CDL and medical certificate, completed pre and post-trip inspection records, current cab card, Bills of Lading, and any special paperwork necessary for the load you are hauling. (Ex: HazMat or Radioactive)
Your medical certificate is typically good for 1-2 years depending on your personal health and your doctor’s discretion. This is your responsibility to keep up-to-date as your CDL is void without it being on file with your state.
If this paperwork is not current you risk failing your DOT Inspection which can negatively impact the carrier’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) score, and can also leave you on the side of the road until updated paperwork is received by the DOT Officer.
Hours of Service
In trucking times of the past, hours of service were not watched as closely as they are today. With Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) now required in all tractors that are manufactured after 2000, a driver’s hours on the road are more closely monitored. While frustrating for some drivers, this is intended to keep driver fatigue to a minimum and reduce traffic crashes. Having your ELD in proper working condition and ready to download in case of a DOT inspection will make it go much more smoothly.
If your tractor is older or you happen to fall under an Agricultural exemption, you are required to keep a paper log showing your hours of service and it must be up-to-date at all times.
When purchasing the ELDs for your equipment you must check the FMCSA’s website and verify that it is self-certified and registered with them. These systems not only track your hours of service but this data is also collected to monitor roadside inspections, weigh station checks, and other information that will then be listed on the customer’s SMS profile with the government. If you have a failed inspection, improper working equipment, or overweight trips in your data this can cause a severe negative impact on your CSA score as well as your insurance score. This can cause you to pay much higher insurance rates at your next renewal.
Passing any DOT safety inspections, on the other hand, can give you a positive report to FMCSA and therefore help you when you show a history of following the rules and properly maintaining your equipment. The end goal is to keep the roads and drivers safe, and the way to do this is by keeping your equipment and drivers in peak condition.
What DOT Compliance Applies to Fleets?
You are considered a fleet account any time that you are running more than 10 tractors under your authority. With the ability to make more money also comes more tedious paperwork and more hoops to jump through to ensure that you are keeping up with all FMCSA requirements.
DOT can conduct a fleet audit of your account at any time. Many fleets have switched to completing all of their necessary paperwork electronically so that it is easily accessible for not only them to monitor, but also if an auditor comes by.
You must keep documentation of HOS Compliance, Driver and Vehicle Inspection Reports, IFTA compliance, as well as all Drug and Alcohol Pre-Employment results along with any random testing results that have been completed for all drivers within the company.
This is another example that if you do things each day and have everything ready to go there is no reason that any of this should cause you any stress. Having proper policies and procedures in place and all documentation kept up-to-date will save you lots of time and money in the long run.
There are those few examples, as in any industry, that you can fall under an exemption. For DOT and FMCSA there aren’t a lot of those, but we will go over a few.
We have already discussed that if your tractor is manufactured before the year 2000 you are not required to have an ELD installed.
There are Agricultural Exemptions, these are set by each state and can vary on the season. If you are an agricultural hauler you will want to make sure you know what rules you need to be following. Some of the main ones are during harvest and planting times and typically are restricted to a 150-mile radius from pick-up to delivery.
There have also been instances during natural disasters or catastrophes where they have loosened guidelines and allowed truckers to haul overweight loads or not follow the hours of service when a lot of freight needs to be moved in a faster amount of time. You will want to make sure you carry any paperwork with you that states these exemptions if you need to haul during these time frames.
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