5 Areas of Trucking Compliance Will Keep You Running Down the Road

Department of Transportation rules and regulations ensure the safety of your drivers and the motoring public

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Question: We are almost ready to start our portable restroom business. We have researched and examined vacuum trucks, restrooms, deodorizers and other supply items. We have spoken with our accountant at length. We have completed all required legal documents and have obtained our business license. We even visited our local wastewater treatment plant. There is one major area we know nothing about. Can you please summarize what we need to know and do in terms of being DOT-compliant? 

Answer: The U.S. Department of Transportation is the regulatory agency all PROs need to be aware of and understand; PROs must abide by its appropriate guidelines, rules and regulations. In short, the DOT is responsible for ensuring the safety of trucks and truck drivers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is an agency within the DOT that oversees the rules and regulations.

Five major components of dealing with the DOT are:

USDOT identification numbers obtained and displayed on 

   commercial vehicles

Federal annual inspections of commercial vehicles

Driver DOT medical cards

Daily truck post-trip inspections

DOT roadside inspections

USDOT Identification Numbers

All interstate commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more must obtain a USDOT number that is unique to your company and that must be displayed on both sides of the vehicle. The usual placement is on the front doors.

Intrastate commercial vehicles vary from state to state in terms of this requirement. For example, in our home state of Georgia, USDOT numbers are indeed required. To find out about your state requirements, contact either the FMCSA field office in your state (www.fmcsa.dot.gov) or your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

Federal Annual Inspections

All commercial vehicles with a GVWR of 10,001 pounds or more must be inspected annually by a certified inspector. Most truck repair shops have at least one inspector. Every 12 months, each commercial vehicle is inspected for safe operation. The inspection includes the thorough evaluation of such items as brakes, brake lights, exhaust system, fuel system, headlights, seat belts, secure cargo, steering system, stoplights, suspension, tires, turn signals, wheel rims and windshield wipers. After the vehicle has passed inspection, a federal annual inspection decal is affixed inside the cab of the truck. The placement is usually on the back glass of a vacuum truck. This decal can be easily seen by any officer conducting a roadside inspection.

Driver DOT Medical Cards

The DOT requires that commercial drivers pass regular physical exams and provide the DOT with the results. Your personal physician may not be able to conduct these exams. The FMCSA requires medical examiners to be certified members of the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners. These certified doctors, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are numerous, and there is a searchable database on the FMCSA website.

Prior to the physical exam, the driver must complete a health history questionnaire including a list of medications and dosages, doctors’ names and addresses, and other medical conditions such as vision or hearing problems, diabetes and heart-related issues.

The DOT physical includes testing of vision, hearing, blood pressure and pulse rate; urinalysis; and a physical exam of the body (eyes, ears, heart, chest, lungs, abdomen, equilibrium, spine and any other areas of physical surgery or scars).

The DOT medical card is usually good for two years unless the medical examiner believes that the patient has any medical conditions that need to be closely monitored. The results are sent to the DOT, usually by the examining facility. The driver must keep the DOT medical card with them at all times while operating the company vehicle.     

Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports

The FMCSA Part 396, Section 396.11 of the code states, “drivers are required to complete a daily written post-trip inspection report at the end of each driving day.” The driver should report any defects or deficiencies found on the truck. A company representative must certify any “defect or deficiency has been repaired or that immediate repair is unnecessary.” The company must maintain the original copy for three months. Some states actually require both pretrip and post-trip inspections. Please research the exact requirements for your state.

DOT Roadside Inspections

Each of the four previous requirements are planned, scheduled and handled as routine operations. Roadside DOT inspections, however, are unplanned and can be costly to both the company and the driver. Being prepared at all times is the best way to handle these random and unplanned occurrences.

The DOT conducts random inspections. If pulled over, the driver should be able to easily produce his or her current driver’s license, DOT medical card and proof of insurance for the vehicle. In addition, the federal annual inspection decal inside of the truck must be visible and valid. The inspecting officer may or may not ask the driver to step outside of the cab where a review of the vehicle is done. As explained above, the USDOT number, if required, must be properly displayed. The officer will then examine the lights, tires and other parts of the vehicle. It is imperative as PROs that we make sure the truck does not have any leaky valves and that, if there is a load, it is properly secured.

According to the DOT, the most common citations given to truck drivers include:

1. Lighting violations. This is usually the first and easiest indication to the officer to pull over the truck

2. Failure to obey traffic signs and signals

3. Speeding

4. Following too close

5. Failure to wear a seat belt

6. Use of a hand-held phone

7. Inattentiveness

8. Improper load securement

9. Lane deviation

10. Improper registration or credentials

11. Noncompliance to the truck weight limit

The results of the inspection can be “clean,” meaning no violations; violations are found but not serious; and the most serious of all, OOS, which means out of service.

Tips for handling these inspections are for drivers to be organized with the appropriate paperwork, friendly and attentive, and confident that the daily inspections of the vehicle on the company yard have been done accurately, efficiently and correctly.


An excellent resource in understanding and complying with all of the DOT guidelines, requirements and programs in your state is to consider joining your state’s Motor Trucking Association (www.trucking-association.com). All 50 states have associations in place to protect the interests of the trucking industry, educate members on both federal and state DOT laws, and serve as resources to members.

When Terri and I owned Pit Stop Sanitation Services, we were proud members of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association, or GMTA, and we benefitted from this partnership. We would like to thank Emily Crane with GMTA for providing answers to several of our inquiries on this topic. 


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