Trucking companies know they can expect to be audited by the Department of Transportation (DOT) now and then. What many people do not realize is that any person or organization in any industry that is involved in transportation is subject to DOT regulations. That includes companies for which transporting cargo or people is a strictly supportive function, as long as the vehicles have a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more. That means the auditors could show up.
The best way to prepare for an audit is to make sure the fleet is in compliance with all applicable regulations. Knowing what the auditors are going to look for also helps.
There are four types of DOT safety audits, each of which involves a different checklist of concerns. There are new entrant audits, compliance reviews, security reviews, and hazardous materials reviews. All four typically happen without prior notice.
New entrant reviews happen sometime within three to six months after a company starts using its USDOT number. It is comprehensive, covering all 11 of the DOT’s areas of concern, but the objective is only to discover if the company understands the law. The auditor will not do a thorough review of each area.
The 11 areas of concern are: shipping documents, driver qualifications, hours of service, vehicle inspection and maintenance, accident register, hazmat registration, drug testing program, accident register, hazmat register, drug testing program, security plan, review of motor carrier operations.
Compliance reviews also cover all 11 areas of concern, but at greater depth. This is a thorough review of all relevant records and evidence in order to ensure the company is not violating the regulations in some way.
Security reviews are in-depth audit of only those areas directly related to security. In practice, this means all areas of concern except placarding, HazMat registration, and the drug testing program. If the company transports hazardous materials, a hazardous materials review will probably be conducted at the same time. These cover all areas of concern except the drug testing program, again in depth.
The details of safety audits—what the auditor is looking for, what types of audits are conducted, and under what circumstances—sometimes change as the regulations are updated. It is important to stay current on these details, for obvious reasons. The best way to ensure that any audit will be as stress-free as possible is to stay compliant with the regulations in the first place.
Pine Logistics, a family owned transportation company based in Massachusetts recently went through an arduous FMCSA audit. The company caters to the small and medium sized business, proving customized solutions to fit unique shipping needs of companies across a range of industries. According to the company, “We are able to work with shippers in ways the big guys can’t; with tailor-made solutions to move freight in [efficiently].” The company uses GPS fleet tracking in order to meet Hours of Service regulations and to manage safety issues. The company's GPS investment paid off during the audit. They passed with flying colors. The FMCSA told Pine Logistics, "We're glad to see you’re using [GPS fleet tracking].” A good note for any company gearing for an upcoming compliance inspection.