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  • Writer's pictureAustin Fleet Services

DOT INSPECTION: LEVELS AND IMPORTANCE OF MAINTENANCE



Commercial motor vehicles (CMV) which weigh more than 10,000 pounds are required to conduct annual DOT inspections. Inspections are carried out by the Department of Transportation to ensure that all CMV parts are safe and in good working condition. The inspections are important preventative measures that need to be taken to protect commercial drivers and others on the road. These inspections can happen practically anywhere and drivers must be prepared for it.

There are eight different levels of a DOT inspection and understanding these levels is crucial. If you’re a driver, chances are you’re familiar with this process. However, knowing the specifics behind each inspection level or the most common violations will help you when the time comes for your inspection. Be prepared yourself and ensure your equipment is prepared for DOT inspections.

LEVEL I DOT INSPECTION This level of inspection is considered the most comprehensive and common level as it is a 37-step procedure that examines both the driver and vehicle. Expect the inspector to be meticulous when examining both you and the vehicle. They’ll be checking your documents in addition to checking your freight for drugs, alcohol, or hazardous materials. This is to ensure you and the cargo you’re carrying are safe for the drivers around you. The inspector may also examine the below vehicle-related items:

  • Suspension, tire, rim, hub, wheel assemblies

  • Open-top trailer and van bodies

  • Windshield wipers

  • Steering mechanisms

  • Driveline/driveshaft

  • Lightning systems

  • Coupling devices

  • Cargo securement

  • Frames

  • Braking systems

  • Electrical systems

  • Exhaust systems

  • Fuel systems

  • Emergency exits, seating, electrical cables and systems in engine and battery compartments for buses, motorcoaches, and passenger-carrying vehicles

  • Hazardous material and cargo tank specification compliance, as applicable

As for the driver, the inspector may examine them for the below:

  • Seatbelt usage

  • Possible drug and alcohol usage

  • Medical Examiner’s Certificate and Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) certificate, if applicable.

  • Commercial Driver License (CDL)

  • Hours of Service compliance

  • RODS compliance


LEVEL II DOT INSPECTION This level is quite similar to level I with the biggest difference being Level II only includes examining items only if they can be inspected without physically needing to get under the vehicle. The inspector will not check any parts or items that require them to physically get under the CMV. This level of inspection is important to ensure any obvious warning signs of the CMV being unsafe are found.

  • Medical Examiner’s Certificate and Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) certificate, if applicable

  • Hours of Service compliance

  • Seat belt usage

  • Alcohol and drugs usage

  • Driver’s RODS

The inspector will also want to examine vehicle-related items. These are some items that may be examined on the vehicle during a level II DOT inspection.

  • Cargo securement

  • Coupling devices

  • Exhaust system

  • Brake system

  • Driveline/driveshaft

  • Lighting devices

  • Fuel systems

  • Frames

  • Suspension

  • Tires

  • Steering mechanisms

  • Wheels

  • Rims

  • Hubs

  • Van and open-top trailer bodies

  • Emergency exits, seating, electrical cables and systems in engine and battery compartments for buses, motorcoaches, and passenger-carrying vehicles

  • HM/DG and specification cargo tank requirements, as applicable

LEVEL III DOT INSPECTION This level of inspection is directed towards examining the driver only. It’s important to ensure whoever is operating the CMV is fit to do so. The inspector may examine any of the below driver-related items:

  • Driver license

  • Medical Examiner’s Certificate and Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) certificate

  • Record of Duty Status

  • Hours of Service

  • Carrier identification and status

  • Vehicle inspection report

  • Seat belt


LEVEL IV DOT INSPECTION This is an important level of inspection as the inspector may be able to find hidden items or issues that may cause danger on the road. Level IV DOT inspection includes a one-time examination on a particular item. Whether that be a vehicle-related or driver-related item, this inspection is commonly completed to either support, study, or refute a claim or suspected trend on a vehicle. These types of inspections are rare as they are focused on a specific item for research purposes.

LEVEL V DOT INSPECTION Now that the driver has been examined appropriately, the inspector will move onto level V of the DOT inspection which is focused on the vehicle only. This inspection includes a complete check of the vehicle-related items from the level I inspection. This can be conducted anywhere and in the absence of the driver. The criteria used for a level V inspection is the same as the criteria used for a level I DOT inspection, however no driver is present during this inspection. The inspector may examine any of the vehicle-related items below:

  • Suspension, tire, rim, hub, wheel assemblies

  • Open-top trailer and van bodies

  • Windshield wipers

  • Steering mechanisms

  • Driveline/driveshaft

  • Lightning systems

  • Coupling devices

  • Cargo securement

  • Frames

  • Braking systems

  • Electrical systems

  • Exhaust systems

  • Fuel systems

  • Emergency exits, seating, electrical cables and systems in engine and battery compartments for buses, motorcoaches, and passenger-carrying vehicles

  • Hazardous material and cargo tank specification compliance, as applicable

LEVEL VI DOT INSPECTION DOT regulations came into effect on January 1, 2005 and require all CMs transporting highway route controlled quantities of radioactive material to pass the level VI inspection. Any vehicles, drives, and cargo that are going through level VI inspection must be defect-free and pass inspection in order to be allowed to continue. Vehicles that meet the level VI criteria receive a special nuclear symbol decal attached to the CMV at the point of origin and removed once the destination is reached. The decal is only valid for the trip being taken. The level VI inspection includes the following procedures:

  • Inspecting for radiological shipments

  • Inspection procedures

  • Enhancements to level I

  • Radiological requirements

  • Enhanced out of service criteria

LEVEL VII DOT INSPECTION Level VII inspection involves jurisdictional mandated inspection programs that don’t fall into the requirements of previous inspection levels. These inspections are conducted on jurisdictionally mandated CMVs and apply to the following:

  • School buses

  • Shared-ride transportation

  • Intrastate/intra-provincial operations

  • Hotel courtesy shuttles

LEVEL VIII DOT INSPECTION Level VIII inspection is conducted wirelessly/electronically while the vehicle is in motion. This inspection is conducted with no direct interaction from an inspector or safety officer. In order to be qualified as a level VIII inspection, the exchange of data must include the following:

  • A descriptive location including GPS coordinates

  • Electronic validation of the vehicle’s operator

  • Driver’s license class and endorsement for the vehicle being operated

  • License status

  • Medical Examiner’s Certificate Skill Performance Evaluation (SPE) Certificate

  • Record of Duty Status

  • Hours of Service compliance

  • USDOT number

  • Power unit registration

  • Operating authority

  • Unified Carrier Registration compliance

  • Federal out-of-service orders


AFTER THE INSPECTION First it’s determined whether any violations were found during the levels of inspection. If no violations were found during the course of the inspection, a CVSA decal is placed on the vehicle indicating both the driver and vehicle have passed inspection. This decal is valid for up to three months. Unless there’s an obvious problem with the driver or vehicle, the decal prevents the vehicle from being pulled over for another inspection. However, if violations are found the seriousness of them needs to be gauged. If the officer/inspector finds the violation is not severe enough to place either the vehicle or driver in OOS, the vehicle/driver can continue with certain conditions. Generally this occurs when the vehicle can still operate however requires repairs/maintenance to be completed. Any repairs that are needed must be resolved within 15 days of the inspection with a report signed and sent to the FMCSA to declare the repairs were made in time.

Should the vehicle or driver be placed OOS, this indicates there’s a serious violation that poses a threat to others on the road. A vehicle or driver placed OOS cannot operate again until the violations have been corrected and documented.

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