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How to Stay DOT-Compliant as a Small Trucking Company
Mariah Barr
7 mins read

Even small trucking companies need to do their homework if they want to boost their chances of passing DOT inspections and audits.

If you've completed the process of obtaining a DOT number, you've already had some experience with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Many small trucking business owners assume their time with the FMCSA ends when that process is complete. After all, we tend to think of them as the agency whose primary responsibility is to monitor long-haul trucking fleets with numerous drivers.

Interestingly enough, many large trucking fleets remain in fairly good standing with the FMCSA while the “little guys” tend to find themselves in hot water. Why is that?

You may think that larger trucking companies would encounter more problems with the DOT, but as any small business owner who has undergone a DOT inspection or DOT audit can confirm, that's not always the case.

How does the FMCSA differentiate between small trucking companies and large motor carriers?

In a nutshell, it doesn’t.

The FMCSA holds any company that is required to have a DOT number (and, depending on where they operate, motor carrier number) to the same standards regardless of their type of business or the size of their company.

If your business owns or leases at least one Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) with a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) or Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR) of 10,001 pounds or more, or if you are a hazmat carrier and require placarding, you are subject to an FMCSA audit and must be in compliance with federal regulations.

Many small trucking company owners don’t believe that maintaining compliance with federal regulations is a component of their business that deserves time and effort. The thinking is, after all, I am just a small business….why does the FMCSA care about me?

This exact mindset can get you in trouble. Just as filing your taxes with the IRS is a necessary component of your business, so is maintaining compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).

How can I make sure I am in compliance with the FMCSRs?

There are several steps you can take to assess your compliance.

#1: Learn the Federal Regulations that Apply to You

Pick up an FMCSRs book or log on to the FMCSA website to familiarize yourself with the regulations. Foley's compliance experts can also walk you through your company's specific requirements, based on the vehicles you drive, where you travel, and the freight you haul.

#2: Get Organized with DOT Compliance Software

Organization is crucial to meeting the FMCSRs. You should create a digital filing system specifically designed for keeping the following records, at a minimum:

  • Driver Qualification Files
  • Driver Logs/Time Records 
  • Vehicle Maintenance Records 
  • Drug & Alcohol Testing Documents
  • Roadside Inspection Reports
  • Accident Reports

Do you struggle to keep up with paperwork or manage your digital files? Consider outsourcing the work to a company that specializes in DOT record-keeping requirements. Using DOT compliance software that tracks your regulatory documents for you will cost a lot less money, time, and stress than trying to iron out a problematic audit with the FMCSA.

#3: Explore DOT Compliance Training Resources

Complying with the FMCSRs doesn't come naturally or happen overnight. You need to be well-educated in your federal requirements in order to succeed as a small trucking company and continue to grow.

Foley's resource library contains an extensive amount of free educational content to help you get started, including:

How do I know if I'm at risk of being audited by the FMCSA?

Although an FMCSA audit is always a possibility, certain factors can increase your risk of being selected.

#1: Accidents

Even one accident can put you on the FMCSA’s radar. If an accident does occur, it's crucial to set up a file specifically containing documents related to the accident and maintain any and all documentation for at least 3 years after the crash.

#2: Roadside DOT Inspections

There tends to be some confusion around whether a roadside inspection can negatively affect your safety rating, but it's very straightforward. If you or another company driver is pulled into a DOT inspection, the goal is to avoid being cited for any violations – including both driver and vehicle violations.

If an officer logs a violation of an FMCSA regulation, even if it's not an out-of-service violation, it can be used against your company, and possibly alert the FMCSA to pay more attention to you in the form of additional roadside inspections or DOT audits.

#3: Failure of a New Entrant Safety Audit

It is never a good thing to start off on the wrong foot. The FMCSA tends to monitor companies that did not pass their New Entrant Safety Audit from the get-go.

Can I track my FMCSA audit risk?

With Foley, the answer is yes.

You don't need to be in the dark about where your company stands with the FMCSA. Foley's Audit Risk Monitor (ARM) program tracks your audit risk and updates you on a monthly basis, that way you can pinpoint any problem areas with your safety or compliance and fix them before an auditor contacts you.

Our compliance experts at Foley understand that federal regulations are vast, complex, and daunting. It's easy to feel as if the FMCSA is “out to get the little guy,” but safety is the primary objective of the agency's many requirements.

Having an adequate understanding of the regulations and implementing effective DOT compliance software can go a long way in avoiding FMCSA interventions and reducing your risk of a DOT audit.

Schedule a free demo of our all-in-one DOT compliance software solution today and get the peace of mind you need to operate your small trucking business safely and compliantly.

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