Will You Be Ready For A DOT Audit?

The odds are high that DOT will come calling on you soon.

The mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to improve truck and bus safety on our nation’s highways. Its primary goals for measuring our success in accomplishing this mission are to reduce commercial truck-related fatalities 50 percent by 2010 and to reduce the number of persons injured in large-truck crashes by 20 percent. Although deaths and injuries due to exposure to hazardous materials in transportation are not included in the calculation of truck-related fatalities or injuries, FMCSA has an important secondary goal (DOT Strategic Goal G-1.6.9) to reduce the number of serious hazardous materials transportation incidents. Developing programs to accomplish this secondary goal is the responsibility of the FMCSA Hazardous Materials (HM) Program. One of the ways that FMCSA works on these goals is to do Safety Compliance Reviews (audits) of motor carriers.

The events of 9/11 caused DOT to increase the number of inspectors. At first they were used to do the first round of Security Sensitivity Visits. They are in the process of starting a second round of these security visits to do a follow-up on what companies have done in the past year to increase security at their locations. As in the first round of visits, DOT does not plan to do any enforcement actions during these visits.

These security visits will result in more GAWDA members receiving DOT audits in the coming months.

It is a personal feeling of mine that these security visits will result in more of our members receiving DOT audits in the coming months. Any time you increase the number of inspectors and have them coming through our locations, you know they are making notes for future places to return and audit. Add to the equation that they are concentrating on hazardous materials and our odds for an audit go even higher.

Several of our members have been audited in the past few months, five within a five-week period. I would appreciate knowing about these visits. If you call me as they are scheduled, I can help you to prepare for the visit like I helped these five members. If you are given citations and/or penalties, I can help you answer and correct the problems. Another benefit is that I can let other members know about the types of issues the inspectors are finding so others can be prepared. I do all this without discussing any company’s name or location. Your privacy is very important to me.

Two Types of Audits
There are two major types of DOT audits. The first is typically scheduled a week or two in advance of their visit. They will contact you to set up a date to begin the audit and will send you pages requesting information to send them immediately and information that you will need to have ready when they arrive. This audit typically covers your drivers and your vehicles.

The second type of DOT audit can have no advance warning. They just show up at your door. This audit is from DOT RSPA and covers your cylinder filling, cylinder requalification, and training records. Please note, DOT inspectors are authorized to inspect any aspect of DOT during their visit. This means that they may start an audit on one area of DOT and then ask you questions on any subject that DOT has responsibility to watch over.

Top Penalties for 2001
The latest published information on compliance reviews is from the 2001 reporting year. The top violations in order of topic area are as follows:

  • Drug and Alcohol Testing
  • Hours of Service
  • Inspection and Maintenance
  • Driver Qualification
  • Commercial Driver’s License
  • Registration
  • Financial Responsibility
  • Carriage by Public Highway
  • General Safety
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Driving of Commercial Vehicles
  • Hazmat Packaging
  • General Hazmat

The number one citation was failing to do a pre-employment drug screen. The number two citation was failing to keep a record of duty status (hours worked) for drivers.

In the 2000 reporting year, the total number of compliance reviews, both state and federal, was 12,624. The number of closed enforcement cases resulting in monetary settlement was 4,139, with an average settlement of $4,897. The total number of compliance reviews done in 2001 was not available at this writing, but the number of closed cases resulting in penalties so far is 4,694 with an average settlement of $4,685.

How to Prepare for These Audits
First of all, you need to do a self-assessment. Don’t wait until DOT calls and schedules a visit. You can fix a lot of things after they call you, but you can’t create history for paperwork you are required to keep for certain periods of time. Please don’t fall for the temptation of falsifying records. You will get caught and willfully falsifying records brings the maximum penalties and puts you on their “not to be trusted” list.

GAWDA has prepared a wealth of information for our membership to use to come into and stay in compliance.

  • The DOT Compliance Manual is available in both a hard copy version and online, which I highly recommend, because the online is the most current version and is word searchable.
  • Traffic Bulletins are maintained on the GAWDA website under the “Resources” tab, then “Consultants,” “DOT/Security Consultant,” and then “Driver/Truck Issues.” These bulletins go into considerable detail.
  • The Feb. 2001 Traffic Bulletin outlines the items that DOT will ask you for during the audit. This information is still very current based on the recent audits of our members.
  • GAWDA training seminars are conducted every year for both the new compliance managers and the more experienced people. These sessions are called “Introduction to Compliance Management” and “Advanced DOT & OSHA Compliance Management.”
  • Use your GAWDA DOT & Security Consultant by way of phone calls and e-mail. This is a service that is included as part of your membership.

GAWDA Can Help With On-Site Consulting
Another very helpful tool and benefit of GAWDA membership are on-site reviews and training sessions. You will get an audit that covers the same topics that DOT will review. Together we will review, correct any problems, and train on how to get into and stay in compliance. You get an auditor who is on your side and one who doesn’t issue penalties that can amount to thousands of dollars and put you onto their “keep an eye on list.” You will be provided with several services that help you come into or stay in compliance.

Please, don’t wait until DOT comes calling to prepare for your audit. This is definitely one area where being proactive helps you to avoid a lot of grief, loss of hard earned profits in the form of severe monetary penalties, and the follow-up visits to make sure you correct the items they find wrong.

If I can help you with any of these issues, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I am here to help you, but then again, that is what they will say.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association
Meet the Author
Michael Dodd is GAWDA’s DOT & Security Consultant and president of MLD Safety Associates in Poplar Bluff, Missouri..