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The 7 Levels of DOT Inspections: How to Prepare and Avoid Violations

Keeping your fleet vehicles in working condition requires a series of DOT inspections and compliance processes. Checking up on vehicles through driver-led daily inspections can also help save you money in the long run and extend the life of your vehicles.

But commercial fleets are also subject to regular roadside DOT inspections that typically happen at weigh stations. Most fleet managers and drivers are familiar with this process, but may not be aware that there are actually 7 levels of DOT inspection that all differ from one another. 

Vehicle dot inspection and maintenance illustration

From the most common levels of DOT inspections to how to prepare and avoid violations, we put together everything you need to know to stay DOT compliant

Learn what the DOT inspection process is and find out which level applies to your fleet.

What Is a DOT Inspection?

A U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) inspection is a series of assessments that check whether commercial motor vehicles are in good working condition. Inspections are conducted on all CMVs that weigh over 10,000 pounds. 

Fleet inspections not only help to gauge vehicle condition, but also keep the road safe by ensuring trucks pass the minimum safety level. Keeping up-to-date on vehicle maintenance also has huge benefits for your bottom dollar. From saving you on large vehicle issues down the road to ensuring your fleet vehicles last their expected life and longer. 

You can view an example of a common DOT inspection form to understand the vehicle components frequently inspected. You’ll also want to have a thorough grasp of what to expect during an assessment so you can prepare accordingly.

What to Expect During Roadside DOT Inspections

 

While the Department of Transportation mandates DOT inspections, additional groups help enforce these requirements. You can expect state troopers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) to be a part of this process. 

A DOT inspection can happen at the carrier’s location, weigh stations, truck stops, or on the road. Drivers should act professionally and comply with the evaluator throughout the process and stay prepared at all times. This will ensure you pass inspections and avoid any fines. 

Learn each of the 7 DOT inspection levels to ensure you stay compliant and avoid roadway fines.

Level I: North American Standard Inspection

operator using daily vehicle inspection report tools

A Level I inspection is very common and performed the most frequently of all the different levels. As the name suggests, this is the standard vehicle assessment you can expect. 

The North American Standard inspection is also one of the most thorough assessments. Inspectors examine the following vehicle components and more listed in the example inspection form:

  • Seatbelt
  • Braking system
  • Headlights, brake lights, etc. 
  • Tires, rims, and hubcaps
  • Battery
  • Cargo securement 
  • Coupling devices 
  • Fuel system
  • Steering mechanism
  • Suspension
  • Windshield wipers

North American Standard Electronic Inspection

While commonly performed using a manual assessment form, the Level I inspection is also offered wirelessly.

The North American Standard Electronic inspection requires that you collect specific data digitally—including GPS coordinates, Hours of Service (HOS), proof of inspections, among others—and involves a digital inspection while the vehicle is in motion without direct interaction with an enforcement officer.

Level II: Walk Around Vehicle Inspection

A Level II Walk Around inspection involves an examination of components outlined in Level I, except for areas that require getting underneath the vehicle. An examination of paperwork is also required, including license, alcohol and drug records, driver’s history of duty status, and additional documents outlined in the Level III inspection. 

During a Level II inspection, a safety officer walks around the vehicle to inspect surface-level functionality to ensure lights, tires, and additional parts are operating correctly.

Level III: Driver-Only Inspection

The Driver-Only inspection is much different from Levels I and II as it focuses solely on the driver’s credentials. 

During a Level III inspection, the examiner will focus on inspecting the following records:

 

Traffic violations or infractions may be assessed during a Level III inspection if applicable. Though mechanical equipment assessed in a Level I inspection is not included. 

Stay compliant with an ELD solution

Level IV: Special Inspection

Special inspections are just that: special to a specific component of the vehicle. This DOT inspection is rare and only conducted on a one-off basis for a particular component.

The Level IV inspection is usually done for research purposes or to verify or refute a suspected trend. It can include an examination of vehicle parts or driver paperwork, whatever applies to the data needed.

Level V: Vehicle-Only Inspection

Opposite of a Driver-Only inspection, a Vehicle-Only inspection is exactly what it sounds like. The Level V inspection focuses on vehicle components outlined in the Level I inspection but excludes driver records such as license and HOS.

During the Level V inspection, the examiner will assess important vehicle components without the driver present. This usually occurs at the carrier’s location during a compliance review.

Level VI: Enhanced NSA Inspection for Radioactive Shipments

US Ecology Hazardous Waste Trucks

DOT inspects vehicles transporting highway route-controlled quantities (HRCQ) of radiological shipments using a specific assessment. Shipments can include hazardous freight, medical waste, or nuclear material.

An Enhanced NSA inspection involves the Level I examination, enhanced out-of-service (OOS) criteria, and specific radiological requirements. Vehicle, drivers, and cargo must be defect-free before they may operate. In some cases, a nuclear decal is placed on the vehicle to indicate the passing of a Level VI inspection.

Level VII: Jurisdictional Mandated Commercial Vehicle Inspection

The Jurisdictional Mandated inspection applies to any vehicle that does not meet the requirements of any other level.

Typically, the Level VII vehicle inspection applies to the following:

  • School buses
  • Shared-ride transportation
  • Intrastate operations
  • Hotel shuttles

These inspections may be conducted by Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) certified inspectors, other designated government employees, or jurisdiction-approved contractors. While A CVSA decal is not issued, a jurisdiction-specific decal may be.

How to Prepare for DOT Inspections

To prepare for DOT inspection requirements, there are a few things you can do to ensure your vehicles and drivers are ready at all times. 

Follow these tips to prepare drivers and vehicles for examinations:

    • Clean equipment, including internal and external vehicle components. Cleaning equipment has a few benefits including preserving the interior of vehicles, preventing distractions, and appearing more professional during inspections. 
    • Implement a fleet maintenance strategy, to fix vehicle issues in real-time and prevent expensive problems down the road. This ensures your vehicles are always in working condition to increase the chances of passing DOT inspections. 
    • Understand the DVIR inspection checklist, including the most common components assessed during pre and post-trip inspections. These include parking brakes, steering mechanisms, lighting devices, reflectors, among others. 
    • Secure your cargo properly, including following the inspection requirements. This will help keep the road safe and ensure your vehicles pass examinations. 
    • Digitize the inspection process, including tracking HOS, inspections, maintenance, and other crucial paperwork. Manual inspections can be time-consuming, but going paperless can speed inspection up by 15%. They also help you keep your reports accurate and reduce vehicle downtime. You can connect the field to your maintenance team by automating maintenance initiation when a daily inspection fails.

Each of these can help keep your vehicle ready for an inspection at any given time and prevent your vehicles from having larger issues down the road. By fixing small issues in real time and connecting processes across your operations, your fleet and drivers will be set up for long-term success.

dot inspection checklist
DOT Inspection Checklist example

How to Avoid DOT Inspection Violations

In addition to preparing your drivers and vehicles, avoiding DOT inspection violations also requires you to understand the most common infractions. That way you can be sure to pay close attention to the elements you’re at greater risk of being fined for. 

For drivers, common violations include:

  • ELD mandate violations
  • Invalid license
  • Exceeding HOS 

For vehicles, common violations include:

  • Missing proof of annual inspection
  • Improper cargo securement
  • Faulty lights

Be sure to keep accurate records, comply with HOS regulations, follow cargo securement requirements, and keep up-to-date on vehicle maintenance to avoid common penalties. 

You can better prepare for inspections and avoid DOT violations by connecting data from all operations with a digital inspection tool like IntelliShift. 

Connect your drivers and maintenance department with digital inspections