How to help drivers pass a DOT inspection

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If you missed CCJ's AMA with CVSA Inspection Specialist Jeremy Disbrow, click below to receive a recorded version. We received almost 300 questions and this 60 minutes could be a powerful tool in getting and keeping your trucks compliant. 

Truck and trailer violations aren't the only culprits that will get a commercial truck parked with a violation, hours of service violations, mismanagement of a log book and use and/or possession of controlled substances are top driver violations annually. 

Last month, CCJ polled its readers asking what they thought the average percentage was of drivers placed out-of-service with driver violations. Over the last three years, that's been roughly 6%, but 55% of polled readers thought it was 11% or more. So drivers are doing a better job than what a lot of people in this industry think they're doing. 

Yes, a roadside inspection can be frustrating because the truck's not rolling and the load isn't getting where it needs to go, but Disbrow's first piece of advice for a driver is to simply relax. 

"I know an inspection can be an intimidating process, I think all inspectors understand that. And just like drivers, some inspectors could be more friendly than others, some are a little un-so-friendly. But my suggestion, I guess, starting off, would try to be courteous and try to understand that the inspector's doing their job, just like the driver's doing their job," he said. "I can tell you, if a driver's prepared and they're cooperative, it goes a long way toward a pleasant interaction. So I'll be honest with you, 99% of the drivers I dealt with on the side of the road, we had great interactions. We were usually pleasant with each other. Heck, sometimes, I couldn't get them or myself to stop talking. We'd sit there and chit-chat until I realized, "Hey, I got a job to do, and so do you, so let's get out of here." So it doesn't have to be a negative thing by any means."

How to pass a roadside inspection: CVSA answers your Roadcheck 2024 questions

A good way for driver's to prepare is to have paperwork together and have it ready.

"It shows that you're a prepared driver, you're a professional driver, and you know where to find everything. If you carry your papers in an electronic format, like in a PDF, download them ahead of time," Disbrow said. "When you start your trip, it's very helpful to have any electronic documents already saved at your device, because if you get pulled over in an area where there's no internet connection, you're going to have a difficult time trying to show that to the inspector, and it's just going to amp up your nerves a little bit more. So being prepared, I think, is huge. ELDs, they're not new anymore, but there's still a lot of drivers out there that don't know how to manipulate everything in their ELD, they don't necessarily know how to transfer records. So read those instruction manuals, get familiar with how you're supposed to transmit those because it's really a driver responsibility. I know a lot of inspectors will help a driver out sometimes and show them how to do it, but really, that's the driver's responsibility, and it can calm your nerves a lot if you're able to navigate it and do what you need to do. So those are all ways to reduce stress, show that inspector that you're a professional driver, and you're doing what's right."

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Do drivers need to carry their medical certificate?

So according to the federal regulations right now, you're just required to carry it for 15 days after you receive it. That's going to go away next year. But right now, the short answer is you got to carry it for 15 days after you get your medical card. That said, I always encourage drivers to carry their card on them just in case there's a discrepancy between the state driver's licensing agency and what's displayed on your card. So it may result in a violation either way, unless you can resolve it, but it may prevent you from being placed out-of-service if you have it in your possession. So an example, and I've seen this before, is where a driver has a valid medical certificate in their possession. They show it to the inspector, but the inspector goes back to the program, they check, which is called SID list, or they could also check their state database, and they see a note that says, "No medical card on file." So if you're just using that database, it's going to look like there's no medical card.

Is it still a violation? Yeah, it is, and you can DataQ it later or whatever. But the difference is, if you can show that card in your possession, it's not going to put you out-of-service, which means you're not going to be stuck in the middle of wherever you're at, you can continue your trip. So that's a big deal. So it doesn't cost you anything to carry it, it's helpful to have it. So I would recommend keeping it on file. The only exception to that real quick is some states will automatically suspend your driver's license if they don't have a copy of your medical card on file. So that's a whole separate issue, because now, it's not necessarily a medical card issue, it's now a suspended driver's license.

And in those cases, an inspector really has no leeway. If the state is saying that you're suspended, it ties the inspector's hands at that point, kind of, and they have to put you out-of-service for the suspended license. So it may not save you from that, it just depends on how it's entered into the database. But again, no harm in carrying it, and it can only benefit you by carrying it. So I would keep it on me.

What, if any, document is asked from a driver that's using a short-haul exemption?

None, when it comes to log books. So if you're actively working under the short-haul provision, or what's commonly referred to as the local exemption, you're not required to provide a log book during a roadside inspection. Some inspectors might ask for it, but the short answer is, in 395.1 question, I think it's interpretation question 13, it says, "You don't have to carry any log book as long as you're following the guidelines of the short-haul provision." Again, I never give a short answer, so I'll tell you there's a caveat to that, and it throws a lot of drivers off. A lot of people think if they're within the 150-air-mile radius, that's the only requirement. That is not the case. So in order to use the short-haul provision, the driver still has to have a timekeeping system that they're using, it doesn't need to be a log book, but it could be a time card at the office, or the manager's, or somebody could jot down their start and stop time every day, but they got to have some recording system in place.

They have to have 10 hours of rest before they come on duty... or off duty period before they come on duty, and they have to return back to their work reporting location within 14 hours of coming on duty. If they don't meet all those requirements, then they cannot use the short-haul provision for that day, and they have to have a log book, or an ELD, or whatever. So the short answer is nothing, you don't have to have anything as long as you're following the exemption to a tee. But if you're not, then you got to have a log book.

What's a good remedial or refresher resource for hours of service training?

So I guess it depends on if we're talking about ELDs. The first thing, like I mentioned earlier, is just being familiar with your device and going through the instruction manual, making sure you know how to transmit, and all that kind of stuff. If you're talking about the actual hours of service rules, I can't recommend a company, I'm not really allowed to recommend a company, but I can tell you there's a lot of online companies out there that do some types of refresher training. I am going to recommend one company, and that's a non-profit called CVSA, because we do offer a 40-hour in-person course that is very similar to what a roadside inspector takes to get certified.

So if you want to learn the ins and outs of hours of service, from top to bottom, and you want to learn all the CDL requirements and all those requirements, CVSA does offer a course. We do that frequently, and if you go to our website at, you can see a list of the classes that are coming up. But there are plenty of other places that do it too, they do online training and stuff like that.

Can you give a clear and concise instruction on the proper use of personal conveyance?     

personal conveyance can be confusing for drivers and inspectors, and me, and everybody else. CVSA has petitioned FMCSA to try to put out some more clear guidance, because I think everybody here listening to this knows that it's difficult sometimes to know what's expected. For the time being, all we can really use at CVSA, or you as a driver, or you as a motor carrier, is to go back to the FMCSA's website and read the interpretation questions, and read the FAQs, because that'll clear up probably 99% of the issues. It can't cover everything, and I could spend hours talking about all the what-ifs that could come up. But quite frankly, there's just a few things I want to hit real fast. Number one, if you go to the FAQs, it'll give you a list, and it'll tell you what the proper uses are and what some of the improper uses are.

So if you're familiar with that, I think it'll resolve quite a few of the questions out there. Some of the highlights though are, number one, you can't be doing any business at the time for the motor carrier. So you have to be off-duty, you have to be relieved of all responsibility, and you have to be at liberty to do what you choose to do during that time period. That's the definition of off-duty. So you got to be off-duty. And then it goes on to list proper uses and improper uses. So some of the common proper uses would just be things like going to get food. So you get hungry in the middle of the rest area, you decide at 2:00 in the morning you want to go to McDonald's, that's absolutely what PC is for. Going to lodging, or going to do some entertainment, going to watch a movie, the casino, whatever the case is, that's what personal conveyance is for.

Where it falls apart for drivers a lot of the time is an improper use, is you cannot enhance the operational readiness of the motor carrier. And that basically is just saying it cannot be used to get closer to a pickup, or a drop-off location, or anything else that would further the load. And this one causes a lot of problems for drivers, and a lot of it just comes down to common sense as to whether you're enhancing the operational readiness or not. And let me give you an example. If a driver goes five miles to a nearby restaurant to get food, then that restaurant just happens to be in the same direction as the drop-off location, I think any inspector will use reasonable judgment and say, "That's fine." On the other hand though, what commonly happens is a driver may pass 25 restaurants, or 50 restaurants, and they go another 100 miles in the direction of the load.

That's where it's going to be pretty hard to convince an inspector that you're not enhancing the operational readiness. So that would be considered probably an improper use. A couple other things that I see get hung up with drivers a lot of the time is PC can't be used to extend your duty day. It can't extend the 11 to 14 or the 60 or 70 hour rule, and that's clearly written out in the FAQs. So that's likely going to result in a violation or a misuse of PC if that's what you're doing. I've seen drivers frequently, you'll see it in their logbook every day, at 10 hours and 55 minutes of driving, all of a sudden, they switch over to PC and they may drive another hour or two hours every day. And that's not what it's for, it's not designed to just give you an extra bonus of two hours of driving time. So just be careful with that. And those are going to stand out to inspectors.

And the one other thing I see is it can't be used to further anything for the motor carrier. So in other words, I've seen it frequently where the driver will use it and they'll put a note in there saying that they were taken the vehicle to go get repaired. Well, getting the vehicle repaired is an on-duty function in and of itself. So that can't be used under personal conveyance time, and it's laid out in those FAQs as well. So getting fuel, going to a repair facility, things like that, are definitely going to be considered a misuse of personal conveyance. One last thing though is, like I said, for the short time that we have together, I can't hit everything, but go to the FAQ page on FMCSA's website, and give it a look if you haven't done it, and hopefully, that'll clear up some of those answers. 

Do employees like mechanics testing a truck and salespeople delivering a vehicle need a CDL?

Yep. So there's actually an interpretation in the regulations. It's 383.1 interpretation question 2, I think, if I remember right. But that specific question is asked, "Do mechanics, and shop help, and other people like that need to have a CDL?" And the answer is absolutely yes.

Is there a way for a person in an administrative role to keep their CDL without being required to get a DOT physical until they want to drive again?

No. In the past you probably could have; back in a few years ago. Now, CDLs are tied to medical cards. The medical card will automatically disqualify your CDL if you don't have it. So you have to submit a valid medical card, and let's say your card is good for two years, you're going to have to update it every two years with the driver's licensing agency, or they're basically going to disqualify you from operating a commercial vehicle.

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].