Understanding The DOT Audit Process and How to Prepare

An auditor or supervisor in a reflective jacket is writing a pen on paper clipboard

DOT audits are assessments the Department of Transportation conducts to determine if a fleet is following the safety protocols set out by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. They are comprehensive, covering everything from insurance to fleet maintenance and driver logbooks.

These audits help maintain safety for all road users, and penalties for not maintaining the high standards required by the FMCSA are significant. A failed DOT audit can lead to a carrier receiving a Conditional or even Unsatisfactory safety rating, the latter of which could lead to the carrier being shut down. Noncompliance can also lead to fines and civil penalties. In 2023, the FMCSA closed 3,792 enforcement cases, with settled penalties exceeding $26 million.

Even the terms used in a DOT audit can seem opaque if you aren’t familiar with the process. Here, we’ll explore how the Department of Transportation prioritizes companies for audits, what happens in them, and how you can ensure your drivers and fleet are properly prepared.

Understanding DOT Audits

All carriers must uphold the safety standards set by the FMCSA during their day-to-day operations, but the agency can’t audit every carrier every year, so companies are prioritized based on a variety of criteria. New motor carriers that have filed with the DOT in the last few months will automatically have a New Entrant Safety Audit, and if that audit flags up any areas for improvement, that carrier may have a second audit further down the line.

Established carriers are likely to be selected for an audit if they attract the attention of the DOT for any reason, such as:

  • Numerous tickets
  • Frequent accidents
  • Poor CSA scores
  • A failed roadside inspection
  • Whistleblowers

The DOT also selects carriers randomly, so if you’ve received notice that an auditor will be visiting, don’t panic. As long as you’ve been keeping proper records and following safety regulations, the process should be smooth.

Types of DOT Audits

DOT audits fall into a few categories. The two most common types of audit are the New Entrant Audit and the Compliance Review. The New Entrant Audit happens during a carrier’s first year of operation to ensure they’re complying with all safety regulations. The Compliance Review looks at the safety performance of more established companies and checks that they’re following the regulatory processes relevant to their fleet.

Other types of DOT audits include:

  • Security Audit: Covers security measures, driver training, and safety plans
  • Hazardous Materials Audit: Ensures drivers have the proper training to transport hazardous materials and procedures around shipping documentation, labeling, and transportation are correct

In some cases, an auditor may choose to carry out a focused audit, looking only at driver logbooks or maintenance records.

Key Regulations and Compliance Requirements

DOT audits focus on a few key areas:

  • Operational Requirements: Cover insurance, financial reporting, and accident record-keeping
  • Vehicle Requirements: Ensure carriers have well-maintained fleets, perform regular inspections, and have properly equipped vehicles for safe operation
  • Driver Requirements: Check that drivers have the required qualifications, adhere to hours of service limits, receive appropriate training, and undergo drug and alcohol testing
  • General Road Safety Requirements: Check for speeding, failure to wear a seatbelt, mobile phone use while driving, and other road safety violations

The FMCSA provides a full guide to their Operational Requirements, which covers each of these areas in exhaustive detail.

Preparing for a DOT Audit: Practical Steps

If you have had notice of a DOT audit, start gathering the documentation you need and preparing your fleet and drivers for the audit. This short checklist will help you with that process:

  1. Review and organize documentation: Gather documents, including:
    • Drivers’ licenses, records of duty (ROD), and motor vehicle records (MVRs)
    • Medical certificates, training documents, and certificates of violations within the last 12 months
    • Drivers’ safety performance history (ideally for the last 3 years)
    • Proof of all vehicle inspections
    • Hazmat shipping documents (if applicable)
    • Proof of insurance
    • Details of your drug and alcohol testing program
    • Accident register
  2. Vehicle maintenance and records:
    • Ensure your fleet records are up-to-date and vehicles are properly maintained
    • Ensure your vehicles are marked with the business name and USDOT number on both sides
  3. Employee training and education:
    • Confirm all drivers have had a skills evaluation
    • Ensure drivers have received the required training and education for their roles, such as:
      • Entry-Level Driver Training
      • Hazardous Materials Driver and Employee Training
      • Reasonable Suspicion Supervisor Training
  4. Consider performing a mock audit and working with a compliance expert

Every carrier is different, and the paperwork and training requirements will differ depending on your fleet and the loads you carry. A compliance expert can offer advice on how to maintain electronic fleet and driver records, track safety and maintenance, and ensure your employees have received appropriate training.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid During the Audit Process

Paperwork issues, minor mechanical issues, and a poor understanding of the regulations are the most common DOT violations that catch fleet owners off guard during an audit.

Carriers with growing fleets or mixed fleets, where different vehicles have different requirements, might run into issues with poor maintenance records.

Paperwork issues such as outdated medical cards for drivers or incorrect hours in a logbook are issues the DOT takes seriously. Drivers who go over their maximum hours or who are overdue for a medical could be putting everyone on the road at risk.

However, Fleetworthy Solutions’™ safety and compliance solution helps you maintain more accurate records and avoid these common pitfalls.

Be Prepared for DOT Audits

The best way to prepare for a DOT audit is to have good record-keeping, procedures, and policies in place from day one so you don’t find yourself struggling to get all the required documents together when notification of an audit lands in your mailbox.

Maintaining high compliance standards not only helps your organization pass an audit but also keeps your drivers safe and your fleet running efficiently. Fleetworthy’s safety and compliance software streamlines the process of tracking the information the FMCSA requires. If you’d like to know more about how we can help you with your fleet management, contact us today to request a demo.