Here’s what drivers, owner-operators and fleet managers need to know about passing intensive roadside inspections by federal regulators.
As a truck driver, owner-operator, or safety manager of a fleet, you may be familiar with the word “audit.” There are three instances when a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) or U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) roadside safety audit or inspection may be conducted: New Entrant Audit, Compliance Audit, and Targeted Audit.
According to FMCSA, “Roadside inspections are examinations of commercial motor vehicles and/or drivers by Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) Inspectors. MCSAP Inspectors conduct roadside inspections on commercial motor vehicles and drivers to check that they are in compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and/or Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs).”
Failing to comply with FMCSA or DOT rules and regulations during an audit can result in serious violations, such as a driver being placed out-of-service or fined. In 2018, there were 4,534 closed enforcement cases with $34.3m in fines, maximum fine of $129,400 and an average fine of $7,556. In FY 2018, there were a total of 3,532,555 roadside inspections, with a Driver Out Of Service (OOS) rate of 4.78 percent and a Truck OOS rate of 20.82 percent. Oftentimes the driver is challenged with an inspection due to not being prepared or failing to understand how to use the tools and technology for compliance.
The following guide is intended to help you pass, and for your drivers to succeed.
Learn How to Use Your ELD
The auditing officer will likely ask for eight days of records of duty status (RODS). Being able to provide this information quickly and efficiently is key to passing a roadside inspection. Knowing how to use your electronic logging device (ELD) comes with time and practice. Most ELD providers will have online tutorials and will provide an ELD manual for training purposes. The manual is required to be kept on board in your truck at all times. Once you’ve completed the training sessions and reviewed the manual, start using the ELD to become familiar with how it works, what information is available, and the “bells and whistles” of the system.
Along with knowing the basics of how the ELD works, make sure you and your drivers know how to upload the RODS activity. Per FMCSA guidelines, a driver’s RODS must be transferred electronically through either a “telematics” or “local” transfer. A telematics transfer takes place via encrypted e-mail or web services. A local transfer is completed via USB 2.0 or Bluetooth. To ensure that law enforcement is always able to receive hours of service (HOS) data during a roadside inspection, a driver must be able to provide either the display or a printout when an authorized safety official requests a physical display of the information.
Invest in the Right Tools
Often one of the first requests an officer will make during a roadside audit is to see the last eight days of your RODS. Investing in the right tools is the first step toward setting up you and your drivers for a successful roadside audit. With the recent ELD mandate, carriers should be able to provide the most recent RODS electronically with the push of a button. One of the perks of using an ELD is having the capability to easily access, organize, and store daily logs. Compliant ELDs record and store data from the truck on the device itself, which is then uploaded to a cloud server. When investing in an ELD provider, it is imperative to know how and where your data is stored, as well as how to easily retrieve it when necessary.
Investing in an ELD provider backed by an accessible and knowledgeable support team is essential when going through an audit process. If you or your driver is in an audit situation, your ELD provider should be able to walk through the necessary steps for providing the auditing officer the information requested. The best practice when investing in tools for your fleet is to provide proper educational materials and training sessions to equip your drivers with the knowledge of how to use the ELD system.
Organize Your Logs and Paperwork
General organizational skills can work in your favor in a multitude of ways. Maintaining a clean and organized truck cab can show auditing officers and “outsiders” that you are serious about your business. As a driver, your truck cab is your office. You wouldn’t want to conduct a meeting with loose papers and trash all over your desk. Being well organized can give a positive impression that you mean business.
Organization on the back end is equally as important. Implement a daily log check to ensure your RODS are accurate. If there are errors in your RODS, make sure to annotate any discrepancies and certify your logs before ending your workday. Implementing good organizational habits will increase your chances to pass a roadside audit.
During a roadside audit, you could be asked to provide several verification documents, such as eight days of RODS, routine maintenance paperwork, scheduled maintenance paperwork with due date, ID of your vehicle along with vehicle lease paperwork (if your truck is leased), company verification, and paperwork showing that emergency utilities (such as fire extinguishers, a well-stocked first-aid kit, DOT reflective triangles, and emergency road flares) are up to date and on board.
A good way to keep these documents organized is by keeping an accordion folder or three-ring binder. To ensure organized and well-kept maintenance records, establish a daily maintenance routine: inspect your vehicle, notate any changes or issues, and certify the day's logs to ensure the previous seven days are ready for inspection at any time. The best ELD systems enable drivers to use their ELD application to document the Daily Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR). It’s important to ensure your previous seven days are accurate before you start a new driving day. If there are any issues with your last seven days of RODS, be prepared to explain the circumstances of the issues, if asked. An example of an annotation would be if the driver wanted to explain the reason for using personal conveyance (PC) to find a safe parking place to spend the night.
Deal Nicely With Others
This final step is what we consider the “Golden Rule” for passing a roadside audit. For a moment, put yourself in the place of the auditor/inspector. Roadside audits are a part of the transportation business to ensure that only those drivers that are mandate-compliant, professional, and safe are given the privilege of operating a commercial motor vehicle on our nation’s highways. The officer has the “pleasure” of auditing drivers all day long.
Which drivers do you think will fare better on their inspection results? Those who are impatient, discourteous, and abrupt with an inspector for simply doing his job? Not likely. A confident, positive and professional attitude often paves the way for a much more favorable result in dealing with the inspector than a negative one. We have often seen that a courteous, patient and respectful driver is more likely to be successful when faced with a roadside audit. This approach removes the emotion and focuses the exchange on the task at hand, allowing the driver to be knowledgeable and confident about the tools and systems used to maintain safe and effective daily operations.
Be confident in your logs, yourself as a driver, and your business; be patient with the process and be respectful to the officer performing the audit. Your attitude is one thing you can control, and will undoubtedly influence the outcome of the roadside stop.
Ken Evans is CEO and founder of Konexial, a provider of electronic logging device (ELD) technology.