Everything You Need to Know About DOT Inspection Levels

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DOT inspection

Department of Transportation (DOT) roadside inspections are something that a lot of drivers and truckers dread. Part of the negativity associated with these tests is that they can happen anytime and anywhere, without warning. And, if you’re unprepared, you risk failing the inspection.

You need to plan ahead if you want to pass a DOT inspection. This starts by knowing about the six DOT levels and how you can proactively prepare for each of them.

What is a DOT inspection?

A DOT, inspection is a series of tests that check whether commercial motor vehicles are in good working condition. They are often surprise, roadside inspections carried out by state troopers or enforcers under the authority of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

DOT truck inspections are a preventive measure that helps make truckers and motorists safe on the road. They ensure that commercial vehicles are complying with rules and regulations to help avoid accidents.

The 6 DOT inspection levels

There are six levels of DOT inspection that state enforcers can perform on your truck. The thing to remember is that you won’t know which of these six levels the enforcer will check until you’ve been stopped, so it pays to get familiar with each type of inspection.

Level 1 DOT Inspection

Also known as the “North American Standard Inspection,” the Level 1 inspection is the most comprehensive and commonly performed out of the six DOT inspection levels. Level 1 involves a thorough 37-step procedure that checks both the driver and the vehicle, as well as any illegal cargo.

Drivers are expected to show all the necessary documents to the inspector, such as their commercial driver’s license (CDL), driver’s logs, and medical and/or skill performance evaluation certificates. Drivers will also be evaluated for alcohol or drug use.

You should also expect a thorough examination of your truck during a Level 1 DOT inspection, including (but not limited to):

  • Braking systems
  • Electrical systems
  • Suspension
  • Tire assembly, including rim, hub, and wheel
  • Steering systems
  • Seat belts
  • Fuel and exhaust system
  • All lights, including headlights, rear lights, and turn signals
  • Windshield wipers

Level 2 DOT Inspection

A Level 2 DOT inspection is similar to Level 1, excluding areas that will require the inspector to go underneath the vehicle. Hence, why it’s also referred to as a “Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection.”

While less exhaustive compared to Level 1, you should still prepare in much the same way. Inspectors will still ask for documentation from drivers and check if they are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Level 3 DOT Inspection

A level 3 inspection, also known as a “Driver/Credential/Administrative Inspection,” examines the truck driver only, separate from the vehicle. A typical DOT level 3 inspection checklist will include:

  • Driver’s license
  • Medical examiner certificate
  • Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) certificate
  • Hours of service logs
  • Record of Duty Status (RODS)
  • Carrier identification and status
  • Seat belt use
  • Alcohol and/or drug use

Level 4 DOT Inspection

Level 4 DOT inspections are special inspections for one-time examinations of a specific vehicle feature or item. It’s often used to track a trend, like checking how a common violation is trending over time.

Level 5 DOT Inspection

A Level 5 inspection, referred to as a “Vehicle-Only Inspection,” performs the same checks on the truck as per Level 1. The only difference is that the driver is not present during the examination. The test can also be done at any location.

Level 6 DOT Inspection

A Level 6 inspection, or the “Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments,” is a special type of inspection for trucks that carry sensitive radioactive cargo. At its core, it’s a North American Standard Level 1 inspection but with an added emphasis on radiological checking.

Once passed, a special nuclear symbol is displayed clearly on the vehicle to indicate this. This is valid only for the current trip and is then removed at the truck’s destination.

How to minimize roadside DOT violations

A crucial aspect of reducing or eliminating violations from DOT inspections is to do preventive maintenance on your vehicle(s). By doing so, you can check for possible violations or malfunctions that can be addressed before you encounter any inspection.

This is where a fleet management system like Lytx comes in handy. Apart from keeping track of hours of service and other driver compliance issues, it can also provide you or the driver with notifications or alerts around potential risky driving behaviors.

How to prepare your drivers for DOT inspections

Coordination, discipline, and consistency with your drivers are essential for passing DOT inspections with flying colors. Here are some of the ways you can prepare them for the inevitable.

First, encourage your drivers to keep their files organized. DOT truck inspections require a lot of documentation, from licenses to certificates, so your drivers need to be ready. We recommend placing them in a single folder and making backup copies in case the originals get lost.

Second, help your drivers keep their trucks clean. While cleanliness isn’t a criterion, it signals to the DOT inspector that you pay attention to the details.

Third, pay careful attention to out-of-service violations. These are more severe infractions that can get you fined or disqualified if not appropriately addressed. Out-of-service violations often involve mission-critical systems like the brakes, frame, or fuel system.

Lastly, train your drivers to be courteous or, at the very least, professional to the inspectors. You never know when a friendly or authentic remark can help you get more favorable results.

For more tips, check out this article from compliance expert and director of safety for Equity Transportation Co., Len Marchlewski. He outlines 5 crucial tips on how to survive a DOT inspection.

How to pass your DOT inspections

The single best way to pass random DOT inspections is to be prepared. A fleet management solution like Lytx is indispensable for identifying potential issues with both vehicles and drivers so that you can address them as soon as possible.

Schedule a custom demo to see how this technology can help you with driver safety, fleet management, and DOT compliance.

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