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Department of Transportation DOT Audit Survival Guide
7 mins read

Have you passed a DOT audit or roadside inspection without a violation this year? If so, then you’re in the minority…FMCSA data shows that only six percent of carriers got through an audit or inspection without a violation in 2020.

In our ebook, “DOT Audit Survival Guide: 10 Common Compliance Traps and How to Avoid Them,” we break down the most common reasons why carriers receive violations, as well as steps you can take to keep your business compliant.

Get Your FREE DOT Audit Survivial Guide Today!

How do You Survive a DOT Audit?

The best way to survive a Department of Transportation audit is to have an organized recordkeeping system as lost, missing or outdated documents are one of the primary issues that leads to audit violations. In the past few years, audits have transitioned to an offsite audit format, with many new entrant safety audits and compliance reviews being held remotely. Now more than ever before, carriers need to have an electronic recordkeeping system in place to get through a Department of Transportation audit successfully.

What Triggers a DOT Audit?

According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the number one reason carriers were audited in 2020 was because they were on an FMCSA priority list. This accounted for 45 percent of audits – or 5,344 of a total 12,064 carried out last year.

These priority lists identify carriers who the Department of Transportation sees as a safety concern based on past DOT audits, reviews, performance, and CSA scores.

Related: Staying Off FMCSA Risk-Based Priority Lists

What Happens if You Fail a DOT Audit?

Failing a Department of Transportation audit can have lasting implications for a business, as it can lead to immediate out-of-service orders and a safety rating downgrade. As we’ve written about recently, a conditional or an unsatisfactory rating (especially an unsatisfactory rating) can be very challenging to bounce back from, and can impact future business relationships and insurance rates. For carriers that are issued an unsatisfactory rating during a Department of Transportation audit, they’ll have to address all compliance concerns and submit a comprehensive safety management plan to the DOT within 60 days (45 days for passenger carriers).

Top 3 DOT Audit Driver File Violations

Part 391 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations deals with the qualification of drivers to ensure that every CDL driver who is operating on public roadways has the required training, credentials and safety record. To comply with the requirements of this section, employers are required to both gather a variety of documents from the driver and run a series of background screens. All of this information is then organized into two folders that must be maintained for the duration of the driver’s employment, as well as three years thereafter.

Violation #1: Inquiries into Employment Record Not Kept in Driver Qualification File (391.51(b)(2))

This is the third most common critical violation for 2019 so far, with employers either not completing the prior employer inquiry, or not filing the documentation in the correct place. To comply with regulation Part 391, all inquiries into a driver’s previous employment must be well documented and filed as part of their Safety Performance History. Because of the sensitive nature of the information contained within this file, it must be kept in a secure location that is only accessible to those who are directly involved in the hiring process for your company.

Violation #2: Failing to Maintain a Driver Qualification File on Each Driver (391.51(a))

The driver qualification file isn’t simply a pre-hire process, it’s a file that must be updated throughout the duration of a driver’s employment. Confusion over that point – as well as the lack of an organizational system to alert carriers when an update is required – means that many carriers don’t have complete driver files for every driver they employ.

Each file must contain a variety of important documents, including the driver’s DOT application, motor vehicle report (updated annually), CDL, medical card and prior employer verifications. Every time a document is set to expire, it must be updated within the file to ensure it stays compliant.

Get Your FREE DOT Audit Survivial Guide Today!

Violation #3: No Medical Certificate in Qualification File (391.51(b)(7))

Given how important physical health is to both the safety of your drivers and the roadways, regulation Part 391 requires that a legible copy of the driver’s medical certificate be kept in the driver qualification file. This document must be kept current and replaced with the driver’s updated document each time it’s renewed.

Related to this violation, is the need for drivers to have a copy of their medical certificate on them each time they drive. Although not specific to audits, this has been one of the top roadside inspection violations this year.

How to Prevent a Part 391 Violation

The key to staying compliant with all of the requirements of regulation Part 391 is a good organizational system – or a partner that can manage the requirements on your behalf. If you’re opting to manage the files yourself, make sure you have a checklist of all the required documents so that nothing slips through the cracks during the pre-hire process. Then, have an alert system in place so that you’re reminded well in advance of CDL and medical card expiration dates, for example.

An easier route is to utilize an electronic driver file management system which will help create and manage files on your behalf. For best results, make sure you use a system that will provide instant alerts and notifications when a driver file is incomplete or a document needs to be updated. This will help you stay on top of these important tasks without it consuming too much of your time.

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