What You Need to Know About DOT Audits


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency of the Department of Transportation (DOT), oversees nearly 600,000 motor carriers and millions of commercial drivers across the U.S. The agency is responsible for ensuring carriers comply with regulations. DOT regulations cover driver qualifications, hours of service (HOS), vehicle maintenance requirements, drug and alcohol testing, cargo securement, accident reporting, and insurance requirements.

The FMCSA performs DOT audits to ensure regulatory compliance. Regulatory violations can result in fines, penalties, downgraded safety ratings, or even the suspension or revocation of a motor carrier’s operating authority.

Several factors may trigger a DOT audit, including a carrier’s high number of safety violations, complaints against a carrier, and a history of accidents. In addition, audits may be targeted to specific carriers or industries based on data analysis, or carriers might be randomly selected as part of the FMCSA’s enforcement efforts. Carriers that transport hazardous materials may also be targets of audits due to the increased risks associated with their shipments.

There are several types of audits: comprehensive, focused, on-site, off-site, new entrants, etc. Historically, the FMCSA has favored on-site and comprehensive reviews; however, off-site audits have become more popular. Off-site audits enable FMCSA investigators to analyze papers from their offices, saving time and money by eliminating the need to travel to and from a carrier’s terminal and instead rely on electronic document transfer. According to the National Transportation Association (NTA), “FMCSA offsite audits are up over 400% over the last couple of years, and they’re not slowing down.”

Documentation for a DOT Audit

A motor carrier has 48 hours to get ready once notified by the FMCSA of a DOT audit. The agency requires a motor carrier to provide the following documentation for the audit:

  • Proof of operating authority, such as a DOT or MC number, to confirm the carrier’s legal authorization
  • Insurance certificates for required coverage, including Truck Liability and Cargo insurance
  • Driver information, including license, medical certificate, driving record, and job history
  • Logs or electronic records that show drivers’ compliance with HOS regulations
  • Vehicle maintenance records, including routine inspections, maintenance, and repairs
  • Accident records for the motor carrier’s vehicles, including injuries and property damage details
  • The motor carrier’s safety policy, including drug and alcohol testing, driver training, and incident reporting

DOT safety ratings (also known as safety fitness determinations) represent a motor carrier’s compliance with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations as of the date of the FMCSA audit that led to the rating. There are three possible ratings: satisfactory, conditional, and unsatisfactory. If an audit reveals significant noncompliance, the FMCSA will give the carrier an unsatisfactory rating, eventually leading to its closure.

Motor carriers must ensure compliance and keep all records up to date.

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