Transportation is a complex and heavily regulated business. While receiving some violations is probably unavoidable, the majority of DOT violations are within your control.
In this article, we’ll walk through:
- The business impact of DOT violations
- Tips from DOT officers to make inspections go more smoothly
- Steps your business can take to reduce the likelihood of violations
The business impact of DOT violations
The direct impacts of DOT violations are clear. You might pay a fine, and if the violation is severe enough, your driver may be put out-of-service. While these are serious, the arguably bigger impact is on CSA scores.
Each DOT violation adds points to your CSA score. Over time, a CSA score can be a big factor in the success of a fleet. Here are a few of the top ways CSA scores can impact your business:
- Increased likelihood of FMCSA interventions. The FMCSA uses CSA scores to help prioritize interventions and investigations. An FMCSA investigation can be a time-intensive process that can result in fines and even a complete out-of-service order.
- Losing access to the most profitable loads. Often, there are many fleets vying for the business of the best shippers. You know, the ones with consistent freight, well-run docks, and pay the highest rates.
When choosing a carrier, it’s common for these shippers and the 3PLs to use CSA score data as a factor. A poor CSA score can lead to the best loads going to other carriers.
Higher insurance premiums and deductibles. It’s pretty common for insurance companies to use CSA scores as a factor in their evaluation of a fleet’s risk profile. This can lead to higher premiums and deductibles, or even a denial of coverage. The past year has seen a big uptick in fleets citing big increases in insurance costs as a factor for going out of business. Maintaining your CSA score is one way to potentially reduce the odds of your business being next.
Tips from DOT officers to make inspections go more smoothly
Now that we’ve established the importance of avoiding DOT violations, let’s take a look at how we can make them go more smoothly.
While these tips may not reduce your number of violations, they will help you get back on the road faster. And let’s be honest: making the inspection easy for the officer can’t be a bad thing.
To learn more about how fleets can make DOT inspections easier, we spoke to Sergeant Joseph Farnsworth, an officer with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s motor vehicle enforcement division. Here is his advice:
Use an electronic logging device
While many drivers are now using ELDs, some are not due to exemptions. If any of your drivers are still using paper logs, you may want to reconsider:
“Law enforcement sees fewer hours of service violations when electronic logging devices are in use. Form and manner violations are the most common violations we see,” Farnsworth said, noting that he’s observed “the elimination” of such violations among drivers who log electronically.” Farnsworth told us.
Ensure drivers are well-trained on their ELD
For drivers currently using ELDs, Farnsworth stressed the importance of training:
“Professional drivers without proper training and/or organizational skills can make timeliness of traffic stops an issue,” Farnsworth said. “Drivers who don’t receive training or lack confidence in e-logs/ELDs definitely affect the efficiency of the officer.”
With a large number of ELDs on the market, DOT officers can’t be expected to understand how to operate every device. By ensuring your drivers are well-trained, especially around how to handle key inspection tasks like sending output files, inspections can be faster and easier for everyone.
Remember that ELDs affect officers too
We know recording hours electronically changes a driver’s process, but ELDs also impact how officers conduct roadside inspections – which has brought about some challenges.
“Electronic logs have caused several safety issues for law enforcement officers,” Sgt. Farnsworth explained. “When a commercial vehicle is stopped roadside, the only way to check hours of service is to enter the truck or stand on the running board to see the monitor. With traffic passing at highway speeds, this is an obvious officer safety concern, we see many ‘move over’ roadside inspection violations here.”
One way to make this easier is to choose an ELD that is phone or tablet-based that also offers “DOT inspection mode.” This allows drivers to simply hand the officer the device without privacy concerns, as everything but the required inspection data will be locked.
Steps your business can take to reduce the likelihood of violations
To reduce DOT violations, fleets must address four key parts of their business: Hiring, safety, vehicle health, and compliance.
Use PSP reports when hiring. Focusing on hiring drivers with strong track records for compliance and safety is one of the best ways to prevent violations. In fact, fleets who use PSP reports in their hiring experience 17 percent lower out-of-service rates than those who do not.
Improving driver safety can avoid some of the most common driver-related violations, such as:
- Speeding (12.34 percent of total violations)
- Failure to obey a traffic control device (6.33 percent)
- Failing to use a seatbelt (4.18 percent)
- Dangerous driving behaviors such as following too closely (.98 percent) and improper lane changes (.78 percent)
You can identify and prevent these behaviors by implementing a fleet safety solution that offers driver coaching and dual-facing integrated dashcams.
Another key part of avoiding DOT violations is proper vehicle maintenance. Often, a vehicle violation is the reason a driver is pulled over in the first place. For example, 12.29 percent of all violations are for inoperable required lamps.
Here’s how you can reduce vehicle-related violations:
- Ensure drivers are completing a thorough vehicle inspection each day. Also, 5.26 percent of all violations are due to operating a CMV without proof of a periodic inspection.
- Use a fleet management solution that includes vehicle diagnostics so you can identify and fix vehicle issues proactively.
Of the top 20 driver compliance violations, 9 are ELD- or Hours of Service-related. Here are some tips to help avoid the most common ELD/HOS violations:
Have the proper in-cab paperwork. Drivers must maintain ELD user’s manual, the ELD instruction sheet, ELD-compliant supporting documents, and a set of paper logs, among other documents.
Additionally, when a vehicle comes into the shop for maintenance, consider it to be a compliance health check as well. Give maintenance staff a checklist of all the documentation that should be in the cab.
If they find a vehicle that’s missing them, be sure they have extras on hand so they can immediately get the vehicle in compliance.
Provide ongoing driver training. Many ELD violations can be prevented through more thorough ongoing training efforts. For example, do your drivers know:
- What to do when their ELD malfunctions?
- How to properly add log annotations, location descriptions, trailer numbers, and more?
- When and how to use special driving categories such as personal conveyance and yard moves?
Regularly audit driver logs. Lastly, be sure to regularly do a thorough audit of driver logs. Audit the items an officer will look for, such as form and manner errors.
Leading ELD solutions make it easy to identify driver logs with Hours of Service violations, and even receive real-time alerts.
Start minimizing DOT violations today
Consequences of DOT violations include fines, out-of-service orders, and a damaged CSA score. While receiving zero violations may not be realistic, fleets can meaningfully reduce their violation risk by taking simple, proven steps to improve their operations in the four key areas: Hiring, safety, vehicle health, and compliance.
If you found this article useful, you may be interested in our complete guide to CSA scores.