Modern fleet operators are required to manage a lengthy list of ever-shifting government regulations — a challenge that’s even more difficult for anyone who manages a mixed fleet of vehicles that include just a handful of medium-duty and heavy-duty trucks.
That’s because one regulation that doesn’t change is the strict weight limit that dictates when a company must obtain a Department of Transportation (DOT) number and stay compliant with the rules that come along with it. If you primarily manage smaller vehicles but are considering adding a few that surpass the DOT’s 10,000-pound threshold, learning the ins and outs of DOT compliancy is key to keeping your fleet up and running safely and within the law.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started.
When Do I Need a DOT Number?
Once your company owns a single vehicle that weighs over 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or 26,000 pounds for combined vehicles (any trailer being pulled by the vehicle), you’re required to obtain a DOT number.
There are other conditions that may also lead to requiring a DOT number: vehicles that transport materials that are deemed hazardous and that require a hazardous material placard; passenger-carrying vehicles with 15 or more passengers excluding the driver, in the absence of compensation; and passenger-carrying vehicles with 8 or more passengers excluding the driver, in the presence of compensation.
After you receive your DOT number, you’re required to display it on all relevant vehicles and to follow a number of rules and regulations set forth by the DOT. Failure to comply with these can result in major negative consequences, including suspension or termination of your business license, financial loss or even jail time.
Once you know that you need a DOT number, the new federal as well as state or provincial regulations fall into several categories. To steer your fleet clear of incurring government fines, it's a good idea to follow the five guidelines below.
Stay on Top of Drivers’ Hours
In 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) aimed to cut back on road accidents by reducing the maximum number of hours drivers can continuously work. And to ensure reporting is accurate, in 2017 FMCSA required that DOT-compliant vehicles must track Hours of Service (HOS), which is how many hours a driver has operated a vehicle.
Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) support the collection and reporting of this information. These devices work exactly like they sound and are connected directly to the engine to monitor actual driving time. The requirement for these secure, electronic logs is proof that the DOT takes these regulations very seriously.
Surpassing driver maximums can lead to a downgraded rating for your driver or company and, in extreme cases, lead to being put out of service completely.
Introduce Daily Vehicle Inspections
Regular vehicle inspections and maintenance are at the top of the priority list for maintaining DOT compliancy. Drivers are expected to inspect their vehicles twice a day—at the beginning and end of every shift—and to keep a paper trail of inspections, known as Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR). These can be time-consuming, but they’re invaluable for catching and fixing any safety issues before they cause any problems on the road.
Daily inspections should assess the tires, brakes, steering mechanisms and other equipment of the vehicle to ensure that they are free from deficiencies, defects or damages.
Tens of thousands of vehicles are eliminated from the road every year for failing inspections, most often due to brake and wheel issues. If an issue is found, you’re also required to obtain signed proof of repair in order to get the vehicle back on the road.
Step up Your Recruitment Research
Staying compliant means upping your recruitment processes to stay within a rigid set of guidelines. This includes pre-employment checks such as a motor vehicle record (MVR) that look at the past three years of driver history, a search for previous major accidents, identifying any prior drug violations or substance abuse issues and conducting a drug test. MVR’s can be run once, annually, or monthly to avoid a 11-month blind-spot between MVR’s.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that drug testing drivers shouldn’t stop after they are employed. Your drivers can be subjected to future tests at random, in the event of suspicious activity, directly after an accident, or after a return from a break. There’s no wiggle room on the issue—employees who refuse drug testing could (and likely, should) be terminated to protect your company.
Security is a Must
Drivers handling hazardous materials should be provided with relevant training sessions within the DOT standards. And if a vehicle within your fleet is being used to transport hazardous materials, don’t forget that they can only be transported by registered entities. A breach of this role can be categorized as a civil and criminal offense.
Safety protocols—including the appropriate way to safely stow cargo—should also apply to everyday materials. All drivers should be trained how to properly fasten and pack cargo, making sure it is secure and not hindering the front or side views of the vehicle.
Don’t Throw out the Paperwork
As with DVIR, staying DOT compliant requires keeping a strict paper trail of your processes. This is especially important in the event of an audit. In addition to inspection reports and background checks, you should be prepared to provide inspectors with proof of insurance, HOS records, reports of training completed, and more.
If you’re taking steps to keep your fleet, workers, and other drivers safe, you should probably have them on file for future proof.
The twists and turns of DOT compliancy can feel daunting and complex, but success begins and ends with laying a solid procedural framework and sticking to the plan. The steps above are a great way to get started but don’t forget that regulations are constantly changing. Be sure to check the DOT’s website regularly to stay up to date on the latest requirements, and it’s also helpful to keep a copy of the current FMCSA rules in the office.
About the Author: Jason Kraus is the Director of OEM and Product Management at Mike Albert Fleet Solutions, owning the strategic relationship with each OEM (HD, passenger vehicle, ICE, EV, etc.) as well as the comprehensive portfolio of services such as DOT Compliance, Telematics, Fuel and more to support our clients. This article was authored and edited according to WT editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of WT.
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