DOT Compliance: Overview and Tips for Fleet Managers

April 20, 2020

What is DOT Compliance?

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Key Takeaways

Learn about the most important Department of Transportation regulations for commercial motor vehicle carriers. Plus, get tips for keeping your fleet DOT compliant.

What is DOT compliance?

There’s so much more to being a commercial driver than simply getting behind the wheel and driving to your destination. And there’s so much more to operating a fleet than sending drivers out to complete their routes.

Every time a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) puts rubber to asphalt, there are compliance regulations that must be met. These regulations are set forth by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)—so they are important for commercial fleet managers to understand. Failure to comply with DOT regulations can result in serious implications, including penalties, fines, and vehicles being put out of service.

At Samsara, DOT compliance—the practice of meeting or surpassing all applicable regulations set forth by the DOT—is critical to our customers. Keep reading to learn more about the most important DOT regulations for motor carriers and how Samsara’s fleet management solution can help you stay compliant.

Who needs to comply with DOT regulations?

Before we dive into DOT compliance, it’s important to understand whether or not your fleet is required to comply with these federal regulations.

DOT regulations are applicable to any CMV operator in the United States—not just trucking companies. A CMV, outside of belonging to a company or corporation, is defined as any vehicle that satisfies one of the following conditions:

  • Weighs (including any load) 10,001 lbs or more

  • Transports hazardous materials (property-carrying vehicle) in a quantity requiring a hazardous material placard

  • Transports 16 or more passengers (passenger-carrying vehicle), including the driver, without compensation

  • Transports 9 or more passengers (passenger-carrying vehicle), including the driver, for compensation

Overview of important DOT regulations

Below is an overview of the most important DOT regulations for motor carriers to understand. You can find more information about these regulations (and others not listed here) on the DOT website.

Hours of Service (HOS)

One of the most important DOT regulations is Hours of Service (HOS). The HOS final rule was published in the Federal Register in December 2011 as a way for the FMCSA to regulate CMV drivers’ working hours. Designed to eliminate accidents caused by driver fatigue, the ruling determines the maximum number of consecutive hours a commercial truck driver or other types of CMV operators can drive or work before taking a mandatory rest break. You can learn more about specific HOS guidelines in our complete guide to HOS.

Under the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, a US regulation that went into effect in December 2017, CMV drivers are required to use ELDs to track HOS. ELDs connect to a vehicle's engine and automatically record driving time, providing a reliable way to collect HOS data. They replace paper logs, which were historically used in the trucking industry to record HOS.

Anyone found to be in violation of HOS rules or the ELD mandate runs the risk of negatively impacting their carrier's safety rating or even being put out of service.

Vehicle inspections

CMV drivers are required to complete vehicle inspections every morning (before travel begins) and at the end of the day. These driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs) are a critical aspect of fleet compliance. If a safety issue is documented during an inspection, the issue must be repaired before the vehicle can return to the road.

Brakes, lights, tires, axles, horns, steering mechanisms, and emergency equipment (among other components) should all be examined during a DVIR for any damage, defects, or deficiencies. If an issue is noted, the vehicle should be removed from service immediately until the necessary repairs are made. In order to return to service, the driver must present signed proof of the repairs from a licensed repair shop.

DVIRs are one of the greatest protections against safety issues in the commercial transportation industry. In 2018 alone, more than 11,000 commercial vehicles were removed from the roads as a result of failing a roadside inspection. In fact, the top three out-of-service vehicle violations in 2018 were for brake systems (28.4 percent), tires and wheels (19.1 percent) and brake adjustment (16.3 percent).

Licenses and permits

There are several licenses, permits, and registrations that must be in place whenever a commercial driver operates a CMV within the United States. Commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs), motor carrier authority numbers, unified carrier registrations, and standard carrier alpha codes may all be needed. Depending on the situation, companies who have committed a violation related to licensing and permits can face fines, suspension, or even criminal charges. You can learn more about registration requirements on the DOT website.

Pre-employment checks

Before hiring a new CDL driver, the FMCSA requires that employers conduct a pre-employment background check, which includes:

  • Obtaining the applicant’s motor vehicle records for the past three years

  • Investigating the applicant’s safety history, including their accident record

  • Verifying any substance abuse history, including alcohol abuse or drug violations

  • Conducting a pre-employment drug test

The FMCSA recently launched the new Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse, an online database designed to help the federal government and motor carriers understand whether a commercial driver is currently prohibited from performing safety-sensitive functions due to drug or alcohol use. Now, motor carriers are required to use the Clearinghouse as part of their pre-employment checks. Learn more in this guide to the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse

Random drug and alcohol testing

DOT drug testing requirements don’t stop once drivers are employed. Under United States law, anyone who operates a motor vehicle as part of their job responsibilities can be subjected to drug testing in the following situations:

  • Before being hired

  • When there is reasonable suspicion/cause

  • Randomly

  • When returning to duty

  • As follow-up to a reported concern

  • After an accident or incident has occurred

It is important to note that DOT compliance requires all CDL drivers to undergo testing upon request of their employer. This means a refusal to submit to testing is a punishable offense and can result in termination.

Substances CDL drivers can be screened for include:

  • Marijuana

  • Cocaine

  • Amphetamines (Crystal meth, MDMA, etc.)

  • Opioids (Heroin, morphine, oxycodone, etc.)

  • PCP

Prescription drugs can also be screened for. Any driver who tests positive for these drugs without having a valid prescription from a licenced physician, or tests positive for an amount beyond their prescribed dosage, is considered in violation of DOT requirements and can be penalized. Positive tests must be logged in the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.

Hazardous materials

Only registered entities are allowed to ship or receive hazardous materials in the United States. Additionally, in order for the shipment to be valid, all hazardous materials must be classed, described, and packaged in accordance with DOT hazmat regulations. Any individual or business that is found to be in violation of these regulations is subject to both civil and criminal penalties. Employees who handle hazardous materials must also receive adequate training, and it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure all training efforts meet the standards set forth by the DOT.

Cargo securement

All cargo must be properly secured during transportation as per FMCSA cargo securement rules. This means that all tie-downs must be carefully and adequately fastened, chocks and wedges must be used to prevent rolling or movement, and the appropriate number of tie-downs must be used in accordance with weight requirements. It is also mandatory that loads do not obscure front or side views and that there are no packaging issues (broken pallets, insufficient wrapping, etc).

Lastly, it is not enough to simply ensure that a vehicle’s cargo is secured. Tailgates, doors, spare tires, and any other elements that can become dislodged during travel must be adequately attached to maintain DOT compliance.

Record keeping

There is a significant amount of paperwork required to run a DOT compliant fleet. Some of the various documents that your fleets needs to have on hand in case of an audit include (but are not limited to):

  • Proof of insurance

  • Motor vehicle reports

  • Drug testing records

  • Driver rosters and driver qualification files

  • Service provider contracts

  • Hours of service records

  • Vehicle inspection, maintenance, and repair reports

  • Employee training records

  • Incident and accident reports

  • Quarterly IFTA reports

The amount of time a business is required to keep these documents on file can vary depending on the type of record. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure all required records are maintained, properly filed, and readily available in case of a DOT audit. You can read more about recordkeeping requirements on the FMCSA website.

3 tips to keep your fleet DOT compliant

There’s no doubt about it—DOT compliance is complicated. But there are a few things you can do to make DOT compliance easier, faster, and less costly to your business. Here are three fleet management tips to increase the efficiency of maintaining DOT compliance:

1. Invest in an easy-to-use ELD solution

If your fleet is ever audited, you’ll want to be confident that your HOS logs are accurate, complete, and easy to access. That’s why it’s so important to choose an ELD solution that’s easy for drivers and compliance managers to use. 

For example, Samsara’s ELD compliance solution brings FMCSA-registered ELD capability to any Android or iOS device—no need for costly, proprietary e-logging hardware. With built-in WiFi hotspots, Samsara eliminates the need for cellular data plans and keeps your fleet compliant, even in areas without cellular reception. Plus, Samsara also offers a compliance dashboard, giving you at-a-glance visibility into HOS violations, unidentified driving, and unassigned hours—so you can easily monitor compliance across your fleet.

2. Switch to electronic DVIRs

If you’re still using paper DVIRs, now is the time to switch to digital. Because electronic DVIRs (or eDVIRs) are digital, they make it easier to stay compliant with DOT regulations related to maintenance and vehicle safety. 

For example, drivers can submit eDVIRs directly from their fingertips using the Samsara Driver App. This means the eDVIRs instantly appear in your online dashboard and sit alongside preventive maintenance schedules, maintenance logs, and real-time vehicle statuses. Mechanics can then prioritize the most urgent issues and sign the eDVIR for the next driver to verify, completing the FMCSA requirement. You can even set up alerts for unsafe eDVIRs, so you never let a vehicle safety issue fall through the cracks.

3. Consider dual-facing AI dash cams

At first glance, dash cams might seem more related to driver safety than DOT compliance. After all, unlike ELDs, dash cams aren’t required by the federal government. However, dual-facing AI dash cams—which have both a forward-facing and inward-facing camera—can be incredibly valuable for streamlining HOS compliance.

For example, if your fleet has vehicles equipped with Samsara AI dash cams, you can use our Camera ID feature to assist you in assigning unassigned HOS. After manually identifying and assigning a driver 5-10 times to train the Camera ID, Samsara dash cams can then automatically recognize and suggest drivers with high accuracy. This can help you minimize manual time spent auditing and assigning unassigned HOS segments, which is often a huge labor cost associated with compliance.

Streamline DOT compliance with Samsara

Samsara offers a complete fleet management and ELD solution that can help you:

  • Simplify HOS management and prevent HOS violations

  • Streamline quarterly IFTA reporting

  • Make DVIRs easy for drivers and maintenance staff

  • Decrease compliance costs

See how Samsara can help you stay DOT compliant. Request a free trial to get started today.