7 Steps To Handle DOT Violations Like A Pro

Summary

In this blog post, It is going to be all about DOT Violations, we shall touch upon every aspect of DOT compliance, probable violations, procured citations, and even the strategies that you can follow to turn things around after being penalized.

While we start with a small introduction and by stating how DOT compliance actually works, we move onto the more complex driver and vehicle-specific issues that might lead to violations. Moving on, we talk about basic manners and etiquette that go a long way if you want the DOT office to cut you some slack.

Subsequently, we also talk about the steps that truckers and managers can take proactively, to keep violations to a minimum. 

Lastly, once you have been penalized, we also discuss the steps and strategies to challenge the decision and get it dissolved eventually. Amid the pointers, we spare a thought for the innovative DataQs system and how it can help truckers review crash reports and challenge citations, accordingly.

Despite truckers being hailed as heroes during the pandemic, precisely for their ironclad will, they continue to face certain unavoidable issues, concerning vehicles in general.

As a trucker, getting pulled over for an inspection is never an easy pill to swallow. More so, if the person pulling you over is a DOT inspector!

How To Handle DOT Violations?

Then again, if you are starting off as a trucker and not completely aware of how the DOT inspection works and what are the aligned issues to deal with in case you get an unwanted citation— you must spare some time to skim through this discussion. 

How To Handle DOT Violations Like A Pro?

Step 1- Don’t Fret! Let’s Talk Compliance

Let’s not lose sleep over DOT Compliance, Violations, and Citations!

Instead, check out the following info to get a perspective.

For starters, the Department of Transportation has laid down several pre-defined standards, depending on the oversight regions and specifics. Therefore, as a trucker, you need to take a closer look at every internal, external, primary, secondary, and even tertiary aspect of the truck whilst ensuring perfection.

 Provided the vehicle doesn’t meet one or a handful of DOT compliance standards, you might end up getting penalized, as per the set standards. 

Concerned about the numbers! Let these exorbitant fines scare you to perfection!

As far as the DOT fines are concerned, out-of-service representation attracts $26,126 whereas record falsification citation is tagged at $12, 135. However, the priciest of all is the HMR violation, set at $78,376. Lastly, if you do not have a dot number, a fine worth $14,500 can be levied. In addition to these rates, there are other realms that attract lower, comparable, or even higher penalties. 

Step 2- Get the Reasons Straight!

6th Point will amaze you?

It is important for you, as a trucker, to know the aspects that DOT officers take into consideration. Once the conditions are projected out in the open, it becomes easier for you and even the fleet manager to bring in arrangements for staying ahead of the process. 

Moreover, a DOT officer assigns a DOT number to the vehicle, based on the condition of the truck, registration, availability of documents, and a host of other minuscule but essential factors. Considering the frequent DOT violations and penalties, we have put together a detailed list citing the most probable aspects considered by DOT officers for evaluation:

  • Driver Training

 Based on the regulations enlisted by DOT and accepted by the FMSCA, driver qualification and training are of paramount importance. Moreover, the trucker must have had hands-on training in addition to the theoretical and instructional qualifications. 

However, DOT compliance, relevant to driver training encompasses a wide-range of factors. Firstly, a background check is pertinent, so as to eliminate the possibility of existing convictions and violations. Secondly, driver licensing follows a medical examination, to eliminate disabilities and pre-existing health conditions.

Lastly, every trucker’s license isn’t the same and the person-in-charge of the truck must have the right one to avoid penalties. In general, there are three vehicle categories to take into account, including Class A, Class B, and Class C trucks. Apart from the vehicle size, the trucker in-charge must have additional validations in case the vehicle is meant for passengers or for transporting hazardous substances, as a part of the Hazmat clearance.

  • Drug Testing

As a trucker, you must be privy to the alcohol and drug testing standards. While a majority of these regulations are conveyed to the driver as a part of the induction process, it is necessary to take things seriously for steering clear of DOT citations. Most importantly, alcohol and drug-based violations also affect the supervisors and fleet managers as they are held accountable.

  • Record Keeping

DOT standards expect truckers to pitch forth accurate logs when inspected. While this calls for the inclusion of Electronic Devices for Logging, which is more of a compulsion in 2021. Paper logs are subjected to incessant checks and DOT officers are pretty strict on the truckers while checking for anomalies and log-based irregularities. 

ELD or electronic devices allow the DOT officers to check for the HOS, as per the new standards. As a rule of thumb, anything beyond the 14-hour daily mark or the 60-hour weekly mark qualifies the trucker for citation and penalties. However, log accuracy is also checked for trip records, dispatches, manifest bills, fleet communications, payroll sheets, and settlement records.

  • Cargo Securing

Load security is yet another important DOT metric that truckers need to take into consideration. As per the DOT guidelines, the cargo securing standards depend on the type of vehicle and might vary for flatbeds, tractor-trailer combos, and more. The essence, however, takes the SMS score into account and addresses the methods that truckers have in place to avoid mishaps, accidental spillage, load shifting, overturning, and more.

  • Permits and Licenses

The concerning paperwork, comprising tax-based rules for both state and federal jurisdictions, must be perfected, to avoid DOT violations. Besides, the specifics must adhere to the vehicle type and even the weight restrictions in play. Some of the more important permits include IRP and IFTA followed by the availability of straight plates for inter-state drives. 

  • Vehicle Condition

You shouldn’t be surprised if you end up being issued a DOT citation for a misappropriated GPS module, lack of extinguisher latch, license plate illumination, lack of washer fluid for the windshield, and more. These considerations showcase the stance of the DOT officers towards the vehicle condition in general. Moreover, pre and even post-trip vehicle inspections are also mandated to certain supervisors. 

Prepared already! Don’t count your eggs as of yet….

In addition to these aspects, you might end up being penalized for a few other reasons, including:

  1. No duty status record for the past trips
  2. Operating when in suspension
  3. Pipe leakages
  4. Cluttered dashboard
  5. Traffic Violations
  6. Not using seatbelts
  7. Non-compliance with HMRs
  8. No regard for subpoenas
  9. Faulty lane change
  10. Using improper equipment

Step 3- Use Etiquettes and Good Behavior to your Advantage

A grumpy trucker can avoid penalties; said no DOT officer ever!

Have you ever considered the fact that DOT citations can be avoided if you are well-mannered to say the least?

If not, keep reading on….

Firstly, you are partially sorted if the vehicle adheres to each of the mentioned DOT guidelines. However, even if it’s not, you can expect the DOT officer to cut you some well-deserved slack if you are well-behaved and show signs of compassion. While we shall talk about the tough inspectors later in our discussion, here are some of the tried and tested to sway away from massive penalties, in case of a regular DOT inspection:

  • Wear a smile 
  • Listen to what the inspectors have to say
  • Do not be chatty
  • Only ask vehicle-related intelligent questions
  • Do not argue
  • Keep the documentations handy
  • Know the tricks of pulling up logbook details
  • Keep the IFTA and insurance details up to speed
  • Do not throw tantrums
  • Remove the headphones even before the officer inspects you to
  • Convey the genuine reason for violations

Step 4- Prepare for a Tough Inspection: Going Beyond Good Behavior

If the above strategies fail to work and you end up encountering a stringent DOT inspector, here is a detailed checklist to follow and get acquitted, or get minimally penalized:

1. Stay Inside the Truck

Inspectors checking the truck and the relevant documents do not want to be disturbed by your presence. Therefore, you are better off staying inside the truck, preferably with both hands on the steering wheel. Not just that, you should allow the inspector to look inside the truck for the distracting elements as the driving conditions also determine the SMS score of the individual. 

Keep the inside of the truck clean so that the inspector can easily initiate a sniff rest. This means if you aren’t a smoker and the truck appears to be clean; you have actually set forth a pretty decent first impression.

2. Talk Sense

 There are certain officers who would try to strike conversations to cross-check the legitimacy of the log entries. Therefore, you should prep yourself for the trick questions and must not say anything that doesn’t match up to how the logs look like.

3. Attend to the Tires

A tough inspector might not spare the minimal tire noise and end up categorizing them unfit for driving. There have been instances where the inspector pulled out the axle tire and checked for popping noises during the motion. Therefore, it is advisable to get the tires checked before starting a trip.

4. Be Mindful of the Reflective Tape

Some of the drivers we know faced similar issues in Iowa. Even though the reflective tape isn’t such a big issue, you would want to take chances. Certain tough inspectors aren’t accommodative towards you if the reflective tape is amiss or absent altogether. 

5. Be Honest with the Paint Job

DOT inspectors are often very hard on the paint as they consider most jobs to be a cover-up for weak metal, tire cracks, and rust. Therefore, before you end up painting the truck, let go of the faulty parts and account for the structural innovations. 

6. Lack of Spare Tire

Regardless of the vehicle condition, a missing spare tire automatically qualifies for the ‘Out of Service’ tag. Therefore, before you start the trip, it is necessary to have one in place, especially if you aren’t very lucky with the inspections.

7. Broken or Mismanaged Trailer Attachment

If you are carrying some load, it is necessary to keep the fifth-wheel trailer attachment in perfect shape. As unsecured sliders are causes for concern, you need to eliminate them as a part of the truck prepping process.

Step 5- Proactivity is the Key!

It is Never too late to be DOT Compliant!

If stats are to be believed, almost 37.2 percent of truckers were put out of service owing to mismanaged or misreported hours of service.

That’s not it, wrong class license contributed to almost 714 physical violations followed by false logs, which accounted for 14.7 percent or 467 violations to be precise. 

Till now, we talked about the smaller issues in the frame. However, as a fleet manager, you must opt for several preventative measures, so as to avoid DOT penalties, in any given capacity. 

Step 1- On-board a team that understands the CFR regulations

Step 2- Focus on the paperwork, including the ones hinting at purchase orders and contracts

Step 3- Conduct log auditing as a surprise check 

Step 4- Fleet managers should only employ CDL drivers with Class-relevant licenses in play

Note: Ensure that they record duty status accuracy after every 24-hours

Step 5- Adopt digitization, as much as possible

Note: Opt for vehicle tracking systems, timely alert management, automated systems, and FMCSA-compatible ELDs for being more transparent. 

Step 6- Challenging Citations!!!

 Are you Confident Enough?

Provided you have every aspect covered and a DOT inspector still pulls you over and issues a citation, you can always challenge it by following a pretty simple procedure. Appealing makes sense as certain DOT inspectors aren’t aware of the new arrangements made to the system. As FMCSA rules are subject to frequent changes, challenging a citation might not be that bad a decision.

For instance, one of our drivers was virtually acquitted as the reported and penalized crash didn’t result in any injury, death, or loss of property. 

Here are some of the citations that are open to appeals:

  • When the citation insights and FMCSA data do not match
  • Purported DOT violation doesn’t violate the FMCSR standards
  • Violations cited are more severe than what the actual infraction is all about
  • Citation towards an outsourced driver 

Steps to Challenging a Citation

  1. Submit the report and the challenge directly to the said agency 
  2. Try and get an out-of-court decision and see if the violation holds or can be waived off sans a formal challenge
  3. If not, take it up with the court and if the citation is deemed baseless, the DOT score gets removed

Step 7- DataQs- The Fastest and Most Reliable Way to Challenge and Dissolve Citations

Already penalized and looking for a godsend solution to become whole. Let DataQ help

We understand that you might be pressed for time and find it unfeasible to connect manually with agencies and courthouses to get the citation challenged. 

With the ELD mandate freshly introduced by FMCSA, even truckers have something to fall back upon for expediting challenges. Better termed as the DataQ System, you, as a trucker, can use this resource for accumulating and compiling every piece of valuable information that might help you challenge the citation.

As an interactive platform, the DataQ system allows speedier RDR or data review requests, provided you get investigated as per the existing SMS profile. The 6-step process associated with the DataQ system allows you to process the penalties, ascertain the nature of the report, and even review the crash or violation information, as and how it actually happened.

Despite FMCSA not suggesting a timeline for this review, we would suggest you be within the 2-year timeframe, as the SMS profile gets refreshed after this point. 

Conclusion 

DOT compliance and relevant violations are open to debate. Moreover, there is still a sense of transparency into the mix as FMCSA allows for appeals and challenges. Regardless, it is still advisable to skim through the blog post in detail and avoid violating any DOT standard. 

Moreover, the Step-pronged approach laid down by us makes things easier for fellow truckers. While Step 1 and Step 2 help decipher the basics of DOT compliance and essential factors, Step 3 talks about the more abstract and truck-based strategies to handle a sudden check. Step 4, however, doesn’t take empathy into play and prepares you for the toughest possible inspector.

Step 5 brings forth the innovative and preemptive strategies that truckers and managers can follow to strong-arm the problems into submission, once and for all. Last but not least, even if these solutions fail to work, you can always rely on Step 6 for challenging the citations. 

In case you are at sea with the quick challenges, follow Step 7 and opt for the DataQ approach to get issues resolved in a heartbeat. 

Then again, if you still get inspected and penalized, try and learn from each citation and proceed accordingly.

We hope our guide on handling DOT Violations was helpful for you.

Did you ever get penalized for something absurd? If yes, let us know and help the truckers stay ahead of the DOT inspectors, by commenting on this blog