I’m Ready for My Close Up, Mr. Inspection Officer
So, what’s it like to get inspected by the Department of Transportation? Not too fun, I can tell you that for sure, and I have first-hand experience with all levels of inspection. When I was trucking, there were really only three levels of inspections you could receive from a DOT officer. The rules may have changed a bit in recent years, but inspections are a necessary evil that all truckers must be prepared for.
All along the highways in every state, there are places called weigh stations. These places aren’t just for weighing eighteen wheel trucks to make sure they are in compliance with state weight restrictions, but they are also set up to make sure that the eighteen wheel trucks and their drivers are in compliance with Federal DOT laws. So, when you pass one of these places on the highways and you see DOT officers going through a driver’s truck, they are performing a Class 1 inspection.
A Class 1 inspection is where the DOT officers get out their “hospital gurneys,” as we refer to them. The “gurneys” are really just flat boards on wheels that mechanics use to roll underneath vehicles. The DOT officers do a top-to-bottom inspection of every part of a driver’s eighteen-wheel truck and the paperwork that goes with that truck. They also do a complete inspection of the driver’s log, cargo, and the paperwork that goes with each cargo load. They make notes of everything that is non-compliant, and a truck could be “flagged.” The DOT officers can also flag the driver. There are different degrees of flagging, but the two that no trucker wants is yellow or red. That means the driver, the truck, or both aren’t leaving the weigh station on their own.
Yellow flagged drivers, cargo, or trucks indicate that something minor is wrong. The driver, and or the owner of the truck are usually given a few hours or days to comply with the minor issues, but it is still inconvenient. They will be required to send compliance paperwork to the DOT showing that the corrections have been made. If compliance is not achieved, the DOT will usually escalate the matter to being red flagged, making the driver inoperative.
A truck red flag means that a major mechanical flaw has been spotted on the truck or trailer, and it cannot be driven on the highway. It also means a repair is required, which usually means calling out for a mechanic, or a VERY SHORT escort by the DOT to the nearest truck repair shop. This scenario is expensive and extremely inconvenient for time-sensitive loads.
If a driver is red flagged that means that something has been found wrong with the driver’s log or paperwork or that the driver might be out of driving hours. This means the driver will be grounded and no longer be able to operate the rig until the item, or items, are corrected. Drivers with too many points against their licenses make them ineligible to operate a truck.
The cargo can also be red flagged, meaning that something has spilled or spoiled, or that it might not be the cargo assigned to the particular “bill of laden,” offered to the DOT officer. Whatever the cause, no driver likes a red flag outcome when it comes to inspections.
Class 2 inspections usually only consist of exterior truck items such as blinkers, windshield wipers, or air brakes. These are mostly pre-trip items that drivers should have already attended to before setting out on their haul. Drivers may skip their pre-trips, because it takes five to ten minutes out of their time to make sure everything is in working order, but pre-trips can prevent many future potential problems.
Class 2 inspections will also include inspection of the driver’s log and bill of laden, but not a cargo area check, or at least not more than a general look. The driver’s log and truck paperwork will be inspected, so it’s important to make sure that everything is filled out correctly and is up-to-date. Class 2 inspections aren’t hard to pass if you’re a driver that pays attention to details and keeps up with your logs.
Class 3 inspections are usually a simple drive through on the scale, a weigh-in, and showing truck paperwork to the inspection officers. It doesn’t usually take more than a few minutes. The only way to get “snapped” on a Class 3 inspection is to be completely out of date on some sort of truck paperwork, or to scale up over weight. If either of those occurrences happen, be prepared to get either a Class 2, or even a Class 1, inspection depending on the mood of the inspection officer.
If you, your truck, and the cargo are in compliance with DOT regulations, you shouldn’t have any problem passing any of these inspections. Yes, some places are harder than others when it comes to inspections. One place in California, I won’t mention the name, is feared by many truckers. They even have t-shirts that joke about it—“You made it through _______weigh station”. However, if you keep yourself and your truck up, you will be prepared at inspection time, and the experience will be relatively harmless. Inspections are necessary for all truckers, and inconvenient as they may be, they help keep the roads safe for all of us.