DOT Week: What It Is and How to Prepare for It

June 10, 2020

"Don't sweat the small stuff!" You've heard that saying before, right? I usually agree that's good advice. But do you know when "don't sweat the small stuff" is bad advice? During DOT Week!

You won't be around trucking long before you hear a few stories about DOT Week (also known as DOT Blitz Week, also known as International Roadcheck Week). There are roadside inspections, long delays, hefty fines, and trucks getting put out of commission.

In essence, DOT Week is all about sweating the small stuff.

But there are ways to prepare yourself for the coming storm. It makes a lot of sense for carriers and drivers to make sure they're operating in compliance ahead of time. That's what we're doing today. In this article, we're sharing a checklist of the little things to sweat and ways to prepare for DOT Week.

DOT Week Backstory

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) held the first annual DOT Week in 1988. The CVSA describes DOT Week as "a high-visibility, high-volume inspection and regulatory enforcement event."

During DOT Week, CVSA-certified inspectors working in conjunction with the the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) conduct "compliance, enforcement, and educational initiatives targeted at various elements of motor carrier, vehicle, and driver safety."

DOT Weeks are typically scheduled during late spring or early summer. DOT Week actually only runs three days. For those 72 hours, inspectors throughout North America are working the roadsides, inspecting drivers and vehicles with a well-trained eye. In other words, DOT Week is essentially a large-scale audit of the North American trucker fleet.

According to CVSA, "International Roadcheck is the largest targeted enforcement program on commercial motor vehicles in the world, with nearly 15 trucks or buses inspected, on average, every minute across North America during a 72-hour period."

In rough numbers, that translates to 65,000 to 70,000 vehicle inspections every DOT Week. As a result of those inspections, 15% to 20% of vehicles will be taken out of service. In addition, 3.5% to 4% of drivers will be placed out of service.

It's worth noting that certain DOT Weeks have a theme such as speeding, driver safety, brakes, or steering and suspension systems. That said, they all share one common question which can be boiled down to this: Are drivers sweating the small stuff?

We'll cover the small stuff. But first, let's cover the big stuff.

The Biggest DOT Week Violation: CMV License Issues

According to reports, more than 30% of drivers taken out of commission during DOT Week had an issue with the commercial motor vehicle (CMV) license. CMV violations can be a result of a number of issues. These include:

  1. Driving with the wrong license class
  2. Operating with an expired license
  3. Operating under a suspended license

Thus, the biggest tip we can give you to help survive DOT Week is this: Get a motor vehicle report (MVR). DOT inspectors run an MVR as part of a DOT Week inspection. MVRs contain the type of information that raises a red flag:

  • Accident reports
  • Traffic violations
  • License status (active, clean, suspended, or expired)
  • Driving points

By law, carriers must run MVRs on every driver once a year. However, it's a good idea to run MVRs more often—and especially prior to DOT Week. You may not like what your report says. But it's better to know exactly where you stand than risk getting placed out of service.

A Spoonful of Sugar: Be Polite

This might seem like a small thing, but it's actually one of the biggest. Be polite to the DOT inspector. No one enjoys getting pulled over and undergoing a DOT inspection. You may find the entire process annoying, frustrating, and anxiety provoking. But a positive, respectful attitude toward the inspector can affect the result of your roadside inspection.

If we drill down on this idea further, establishing the right mindset is part of the preparation process. Personally, I get in the right mindset by getting organized. In truth, it's especially vital to be organized in logistics.

Between driver documents, the ELD mandate, not to mention load paperwork, it can feel like you're drowning in loose leaf. In reality, the entire logistics industry is trending toward the use of technology and the paperless office. New tools on the market, like Vector's software, digitize paperwork, provide easily accessible document storage, and even organize automatic invoicing.

Streamlined workflows for drivers, managers, and back office personnel make everyone more efficient and organized. As such, when you know all your ducks are in a row, it's easy to feel positive going into DOT Week. But don't forget to mind your P's and Q's.

The North American Standard Roadside Inspection Vehicle Cheat Sheet

Remember back in high school when the teacher would give you all the answers to the test ahead of time? The CVSA has taken a similar approach by putting a cheat sheet on its website. This document called The North American Standard Roadside Inspection Vehicle Cheat Sheet gets deep into the nitty gritty of DOT Week inspections in nine key areas.

Most of the tips on the cheat sheet are what you'd expect, but I'll note some of the more nuanced criteria from each category:

  • Brakes: Check ABS malfunction and low air pressure warning lights. Ensure the breakaway system is operable.
  • Fuel and Exhaust System: Check for excessive carbon deposits around seams and clamps.
  • Coupling Device: Look for a visible gap between the upper and lower fifth wheel.
  • Frame Van and Open-Top Trailer: Check for cracks of any kind.
  • Steering: Check the lash in your steering wheel against the allowable amount.
  • Suspension: Check your alignment.
  • Lighting: Make sure each lamp is the correct color.
  • Securing Cargo: Check that your load is properly blocked and braced.
  • Tires, Wheels, Rims, and Hubs: Check for any rubbing or contact with the vehicle.

The DOT Week "Sweat the Small Stuff" Checklist

In addition to those areas, below is a checklist of some of my favorite small things. This is the type of stuff inspection officers like to look for during a DOT Week roadside inspection. Some of these things might seem either ticky-tack, silly, or obvious. Either way, read through it, cover your bases, and sweat the small stuff.

  1. Wash your truck, and clean the inside. This alone says a lot about a driver to the inspector.
  2. Make sure you have washer fluid.
  3. Properly inflate your tires, and trim any loose-hanging threads.
  4. Put a valve cap on every valve stem.
  5. Make sure you have all your mudflaps, and install them properly.
  6. Make sure none of your mudflaps have any cracks or chips missing.
  7. Check that you have all your reflective decals, and that they aren't fraying off.
  8. Ensure your straps and chains are in good shape and secured properly.
  9. Make sure all your lights work.
  10. If you're hauling hazardous material, make sure your placards are on and correct.
  11. Keep a pack of mini ATM fuses.
  12. Check all your rubber hoses for visible cracks.
  13. Check your fifth wheel, and make sure everything is snug.
  14. Make sure all your nuts and bolts are tight (fifth wheel, fuel tank, exhaust pipes).
  15. Organize your load paperwork.
  16. Have a laminated ELD card for the DOT officer.
  17. Ensure your HOS record is organized and clean.
  18. Keep an extra paper log book on top of your ELD.
  19. Do your pre-trip and post-trip inspections.
  20. Report needed repairs.

Bear in mind, this list isn't exhaustive. In general, it should give you an idea of the type of things you need to stay on top of—before you swing through the scales during DOT Week.

Closing Thoughts Before You Head to the Truck Wash

What was the caveat when the teacher gave you the answers to the test ahead of time? If you got any answers wrong the teacher would always anguish, "But I gave you guys all the answers!" Similarly, CVSA is giving drivers the answers ahead of DOT Week. Take advantage of this knowledge and opportunity to prepare.

Keep in mind, roadside inspections can occur at any time, not just during DOT Week. In fact, it's a good idea to spend some time on the FMCSA website reading through the full rules and regulations. In addition, for a deeper dive into roadside inspections, there's a great deal of information on the CVSA website.

Thus, advanced preparation can help you avoid costly fines and the burden of being placed out-of-service.

Once you've taken care of business, by all means, sit back and relax. In other words, sweat the small stuff now, so you can sit back and not sweat the small stuff later.

This post was written by Brian Deines. Brian believes that every day is a referendum on a brand’s relevance, and he’s excited to bring that kind of thinking to the world of modern manufacturing and logistics. He deploys a full-stack of business development, sales, and marketing tools built through years of work in the logistics, packaging, and tier-1 part supply industries serving a customer base comprised of Fortune 1000 OEMs.

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