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What are DOT violations?

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Key Takeaways

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT or USDOT) is responsible for ensuring that the United States maintains a transportation system that is safe, efficient and accessible. To support that objective, the department enforces regulations that apply to commercial motor vehicles, drivers and organizations. An individual or company that fails to adhere to these rules can incur a DOT violation. The penalty for just one of these infractions can be severe. Possible DOT sanctions range from written warnings, to fines, to suspension of a company’s ability to operate, or even jail time.

Vehicles subject to DOT regulations

Department of Transportation rules apply to commercial motor vehicles, trailers and other equipment that is used for interstate commerce and meets one or more of the following specifications:

  • Have a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
  • Are used to transport hazardous materials, of type and quantity specified by DOT
  • Are designed or used to transport more than eight passengers (including the driver), for compensation
  • Are designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver

The above are general guidelines. There are other qualifiers and some exemptions. The DOT Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration provides a more detailed definition of which vehicles are covered under the regulations. 

Learn what vehicles must be DOT compliant »

Types of DOT violations

Department of Transportation rules that govern the operation of DOT vehicles cover a wide range of activity — ranging from vehicle operation and maintenance to driver certification and behavior.

Some of the most frequent DOT violations include:

  • Driver exceeding the allowable hours of service (HOS) — the maximum number of hours operating a vehicle without the required rest break
  • Driver not in possession of required qualifications or licensing
  • Failure to test or follow up on testing of the driver for drug or alcohol use while on duty
  • Vehicle not properly maintained 
  • Vehicle not inspected as required 
  • Unsafe transportation of hazardous materials
  • Lack of or defects in the required documentation

The North American Transportation Association, an industry group, maintains a list of the most prevalent violations, available here. 

Fines and penalties

In 2017, the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration put into effect a revised schedule of fines for DOT violations. This marked a substantial increase in the financial cost incurred by a driver or operator found to be on the wrong side of these rules.

These fines range in size and the numbers escalate rapidly, as these violations and resulting fines illustrate:

  • Knowing falsification of records: $12,135
  • Out-of-service order: failure to cease operations: $26,126
  • Violation of hazardous materials or safety permitting regulations: $78, 376
  • Same, resulting in death, serious injury or destruction of property: $182,877 

These few examples from a long list of violations indicate that the consequences of a DOT violation can be severe.

To avoid these penalties — or worse, having a commercial license revoked or suspended —  carriers are well-advised to make themselves familiar with DOT rules and follow them rigorously.