If you’re interested in truck driving, you’ve probably heard of DOT numbers or seen DOT safety ratings on the sides of trucks rolling down the road. But what does DOT mean in trucking, what are your DOT requirements, and how do you get certified for DOT inspections so you can meet the safety and compliance standards for your state?
In order to drive your truck, you must pass all the parts of the DOT inspection form during your DOT annual inspection. While inspections can occur more frequently, you must have at least one DOT inspection per year to drive a CMV.
In trucking, DOT simply refers to the Department of Transportation. A DOT number is assigned to any commercially registered vehicle over 10,000 pounds, carrying a certain number of passengers, or commercial vehicles that cross state lines. Meeting DOT requirements during your DOT annual inspection certifies that your vehicle is permitted to operate and haul freight and that it meets standards of safety set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Every driver must complete a regular DOT annual inspection form by a DOT inspector to ensure their vehicle and records meet Federal and State safety and compliance requirements.
While drivers might talk about passing their DOT inspection, they don’t often specify which one. There are six different types of DOT inspection forms you may be asked to do if you’re stopped by a DOT inspector. Each level of DOT inspection covers a slightly different aspect of vehicle and driver safety. Here are the different levels of DOT inspection forms and what’s included on each.
A Level 1 DOT inspection is referred to as the North American Standard Inspection. If you are asked to perform a DOT inspection form, it’s likely to be a Level 1 Inspection because they are the most common and most comprehensive. A Level 1 DOT annual inspection form checks your documents and vehicle for compliance and safety and ensures you have:
Level 1 DOT:
Your CDL Documentation
Any Required Medical Waivers
An Up-To-Date Log Book
Your Annual DOT Physical Exam Certificate
Any Hazmat Requirements
Your Driver and Vehicle Inspection Report
The DOT inspector will also make sure you're not impaired in any way and will do a thorough check of the following:
Vehicle exhaust system
Wheels and Rims
This inspection is very thorough and usually takes around an hour for the inspector to be complete. Once you’ve met your DOT requirements you are eligible for a DOT safety rating.
A Level 2 DOT Inspection is referred to as a Walk-Around Driver/Vehicle Inspection. This type of inspection includes the same inspection components as a Level 1 Inspection, but does not inspect any parts underneath your vehicle. This means that a Level 2 Inspection is usually a little shorter to compete and takes around 30 minutes. You should complete this basic inspection every day as your pre-trip inspection and again when their driving shift is over for the day.
A Level 3 DOT Inspection form is referred to as a Driver-Only Inspection. DOT inspectors will check your CDL, endorsements, operator credentials, DOT physical certificate, driver’s log, seat belts, driver incident report, and make sure you have the correct hazmat requirements if applicable. This inspection usually takes around 15 minutes.
A Level 4 DOT inspection form is referred to as a Special Inspection. This type of inspection looks closely at one feature of your vehicle. They are usually only done if you need to refute or verify the results from a previous inspection. Time to complete a Level 4 DOT inspection form varies.
A Level 5 DOT Inspection is referred to as a Vehicle-Only Inspection. It includes the same vehicle checks as a Level 1 Inspection, but does not require the driver to be present for the inspection. Level 5 DOT Inspections take around 45 minutes.
A Level 6 DOT Inspection form is referred to as the Enhanced NAS Inspection for Radioactive Shipments Inspection, which typically takes about 60 minutes. This inspection is required for any commercial motor vehicle carrying (HRQC) highway route controlled quantities of radioactive substances and is performed before you begin hauling the load. This inspection reviews:
The Radioactive Shipment
Your Inspection Procedures
The Out of Service Criteria
Once the inspection is complete, your vehicle will receive a temporary nuclear symbol on your vehicle. Once you reach your destination and deliver your freight the nuclear symbol is removed.
While there is a lot to remember for your annual DOT inspection, if you are well prepared you can make the process as smooth as possible. You can best prepare for DOT inspections by learning how to identify vehicle issues and get them repaired, making sure you do a proper pre-trip inspection before you hit the road each day, and keeping your records correct and up to date.
When you do your daily pre-trip inspections, make sure you remember to check the following:
Tires: Check tire pressure, wear, mudflaps, and make sure everything is in good working order.
Documentation: Make sure all your documentation for both driver and vehicle is up to date and easy to access.
Lights: Make sure all lights and turn signals are working and not cracked. Check brake lights, low beams, and high beams.
Windows: Check for any cracks or chips and get them fixed quickly.
If you drive a trailer over 10,000 pounds you will need to make sure you meet your DOT requirements and get a DOT safety rating on both your trailer and vehicle. DOT regulations also require you to have brakes on both axles if your trailer is more than 15,000 pounds, but only brakes on a single axle if your trailer is less than 15,000 pounds.
If you have a gooseneck trailer you will not need a DOT number if the trailer is for personal use and does not weigh over 10,000 pounds.
With so much to keep in mind about DOT Inspections, it’s easy to overlook different aspects or make mistakes. Here are a few things you can do and check to make sure your DOT inspections go as smoothly as possible.
Listen to the DOT inspector: You just might learn something from them.
Stay in your truck: You should keep both hands on the wheel and your seatbelt fastened while the DOT inspector comes to your door. They will ask you to open your door and give you directions from there. This is so they can get a quick inspection of the state of your cab.
Keep your cab clean: This goes along with the previous point, but inspectors will use the state of your cab as an indicator of how well organized you are. They also look for signs of drug and alcohol use.
Do your pre-trip inspections: Catching a problem and fixing it early on will ensure your vehicle functions properly and prevent you from getting fines in the case of a DOT inspection.
Check your trailer attachment: It’s very common for drivers to have faulty fifth wheel attachments or unsecured tandem sliders. Double check.
Chock your wheels: While you’re doing the DOT inspection and looking under the vehicle, you want to make sure it doesn’t move.
Make sure your spare tire is in the tire rack: No spare means your truck is automatically considered out of service.
Check for reflective tape: Some states are stricter than others. It’s a little thing to miss, but can be a pain if you don’t have it.
Make sure your emergency kit is in good repair: You never know when you’ll need it, so make sure your fire extinguisher has enough pressure and the kit is clean.
Keep paperwork up to date: One of the main things the DOT inspector will check is the state of your paperwork. Keep it up to date and make sure you’re not falsifying any information.
DOT violations cover driver certifications, vehicle operation, vehicle maintenance, and even driver behavior. Some DOT violations are more common than others and include:
Drivers going over their permitted (HOS) hours of service.
Improper vehicle maintenance
Missing required documentation
Improper hazardous material transportation
Improper vehicle inspections
Missing or incorrect driver qualifications
Drug or alcohol abuse
If you are found to be in violation of any of these requirements or more, you may be subject to fines or penalties in accordance with your violation. Fines and penalties depend on the severity of the violation. Some examples of fines and escalation include:
Record Falsification: $12,135
Failure to Cease Operations with an Out-of-Service Order: $26,126
Hazardous Materials or Safety Permit violations: $78,376
Violations resulting in serious injury, death, or destruction of property: $182,877
Violations can lead to loss or suspension of your CDL or even end in incarceration if the infraction is serious enough. While most drivers don’t have to worry about these infractions, it’s important to know that even a small violation can cost you a lot of money in fines. The best way to avoid DOT violation is to stay up to date on your paperwork and make sure you’re meeting your DOT requirements.
DOT cops, or DOT inspectors, are responsible for checking the state of commercial motor vehicles and performing DOT annual inspection forms and other inspections for drivers. They are typically state officers and are authorized to perform DOT inspections to ensure drivers on the road meet safety and compliance standards and have the correct DOT safety rating.
The quick answer here is yes. Every driver has the right to refuse a DOT inspection if they want to. However, there will be consequences to refusing a DOT inspection, and you will probably need to find another job. If you refuse to comply with a DOT inspection, it’s standard for the officer to:
Contact your company and let them know you’re refusing your DOT inspection.
Explain the inspection process.
Proceed with the inspection, but mark anything that requires your assistance as not working (this includes lights, brakes, steering, etc.)
Give you some heavy fines and citations.
It’s much better to simply comply with the DOT inspector’s request and complete your DOT inspection in a polite way. Even if you disagree with your DOT inspector, it’s best not to argue. Arguing won’t make them change their mind, and you may just end up with additional fines.
Even as a new driver, it’s important to know what to expect to find on the different levels of DOT inspection forms and know what your DOT annual inspection form will cover. Make sure you know how to get certified for DOT inspection by meeting your DOT requirements and complying with state and federal regulations. Keeping your DOT safety rating doesn't have to cause you stress when you know what to expect.