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DOT audits occur with little to no advance notice. The level of pain and anxiety an audit can create directly correlates to your company’s compliance, organization, bookkeeping, and document management. That means every carrier should be ready for a DOT audit at any time, but what are the different types of audits that you could go through?


What are the Types of DOT Audits?

Here are the different types of government transportation audits:

  • New Entrant Safety Audit (NESA) – This usually takes place within the first six months of being in business. It’s designed to be comprehensive and ensure compliance with all required safety regulations.
  • Compliance Review – This one makes sure you’re following all DOT regulatory processes. Also, it looks at your company’s safety performance.
  • Security Audit – This specifically looks at your safety plan, driver training, and company security measures. It often goes hand in hand with the Hazardous Material audit.
  • Hazardous Material Audit – It specifically reviews hazardous material training, policy, shipping documentation, placards, markings, and container labeling.


New Entrant Safety Audit (NESA)

New drivers looking to conduct interstate operations within the United States need to pass a safety audit before being legally registered with the USDOT. The FMCSA’s New Entrant Program monitors motor carriers’ compliance with safety regulations for their first 18 months.  Together with State Partners, the FMCSA assesses safety performance by collecting information about drivers through Safety Audits, but also roadside inspections, investigations, and crash reports.

The safety audit is conducted by an FMCSA-certified auditor at the company’s place of business. It can also be done electronically by submitting documentation to the FMCSA online, mail or fax. FMCSA will tell you which type of audit you have been selected for by phone or mail.

During the Safety Audit, a company will be asked to submit documentation that verifies they have established effective safety management controls. Auditors may request documentation that is related to drivers or vehicles, as well as general operating procedures and record-keeping requirements.


DOT Compliance Review

A DOT compliance review is similar to a NESA safety audit. It’s the FMCSA’s way of making sure that companies are following all safety protocols. A Federal or State Safety Investigator will complete an on-site examination of your operations as part of the compliance review. You may be contacted by the FMCSA to do a compliance review if your company has:

  • Poor CSA BASIC scores
  • A request to change a safety rating
  • A major accident
  • A complaint investigation
  • Roadside inspections that resulted in “out-of-service” violations
  • A failed new entrant safety audit

A DOT Compliance Review is different than a New Entrant Safety Audit.


Security Audit and Hazardous Material Audit

A security Audit specifically looks at your safety plan, driver training, and company security measures. It often goes hand in hand with the Hazardous Material audit.

For a hazardous materials audit, the DOT will review processes such as training, policy, shipping documentation and labeling of hazardous materials. Another way to think of this audit is to view it as the portion of the audit that focuses on whether the company is staying compliant with federal regulations related to hazardous materials.

Hazardous materials have been defined as “materials [that pose] an unreasonable threat to the public and the environment,” and include the following categories:

  • Hazardous substances
  • Hazardous wastes
  • Marine pollutants
  • Elevated temperature materials
  • Other materials and substances defined by the DOT


DOT Inspection Categories

There are 6 inspection categories that an Auditor will review. These are:

  1. General
  2. Driver
  3. Operational
  4. Vehicle
  5. Hazardous Materials
  6. Accidents

Each factor is reviewed and rated on a scale of Conditional, Unsatisfactory or Satisfactory.

  • Satisfactory – This is the most ideal factor designation. It means the FMCSA has determined the company has the right safety management controls in place and is doing their best to comply with federal requirements and regulations.
  • Conditional – This safety rating means that although the FMCSA found at least one violation or non-compliance with federal requirements, and the company is not a safety risk. A company will not face an Out-of-service Order, but they could be faced with penalties.  The company must submitting a “Safety Management Plan” deemed acceptable by the FMCSA in order to remove this rating.
  • Unsatisfactory – This means the FMCSA has found serious violations or non-compliance with federal requirements and regulations that may cause safety concerns. This designation is typically accompanied by a financial penalty. Similar to the “conditional” designation, the company must submit an upgrade request or a “Safety Management Plan” deemed acceptable by the FMCSA within 60 days for property carriers or 45 days for passenger/hazmat carriers. A company will risk being placed Out-of-Service if this requirement is not met.


Who Can be Audited?

Any commercial carrier, driver, or vehicle involved in the transportation of property or passengers in interstate commerce, with a vehicle of gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or combination weight rating (GCWR) of more than 10,001 lbs., is subject to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR).

Companies operating solely in intrastate commerce are subject to applicable state regulations regarding commercial motor vehicles.


What can Cause a DOT Audit to Occur?

Several factors could trigger an audit. The most common triggers are:

  • Crashes – Even one accident can alert the FMCSA to conduct a compliance review. Accidents that result in a fatality or serious injury can prompt the FMCSA to conduct a review with as little notice as possible.
  • Activity – Roadside inspections resulting in “Out-of-Service” violations or any high CSA activity. The more roadside inspections that occur with violations, the more likely the FMCSA will want to conduct a compliance review.
  • Failure of a New Entrant Safety Audit – Having a firm grasp on the regulations is the best way to ensure the is passed and the FMCSA won’t follow up with a compliance review later.
  • Complaint – a complaint in writing must be addressed by the Agency.
  • Follow-up – Past audit activity may deem another visit down the road to determine if the fleet has kept with procedures, they said they’d do.


Updating Driver Qualification (DQ) Files

Every DOT audit will include a review of driver qualification files, so it is very important that these files are always as up-to-date as possible. The required information for each driver’s file includes:

  1. An annual documented review of the driver’s certificate of violations
  2. A record of a valid road test
  3. Documentation showing that the driver’s employment history was investigated before hiring
  4. Training materials on drug and alcohol programs, with a signed receipt from the driver
  5. Any and all instructions to drivers about convictions for moving violations (The instructions must be given within 30 days of the violation.)


Process Documentation

There are a number of processes that must be in place and well documented for you to pass your DOT audit. Those include:

  1.  A current accident register
  2.  A progressive disciplinary action system for drivers
  3. Written hiring policies
  4. A process for documenting drivers’ medical certificates and removing the driver if the certificate is out of date
  5. A process to keep all CDLs current, with driver removal if it expires
  6. A process for checking all drivers’ logs for accuracy
  7. A system to control working hours and ensure compliance


What If You Fail Your Audit?

The audit report will have a list of specific results of violations. Depending on how often the violations occurred and severity, the violations could carry a simple warning (usually followed by a second audit sometime in the future to verify that your making improvements), but more often result in financial penalties. In sever cases, it could force you to shut down your business.

The FMCSA provides the carrier a written notice detailing the violations that caused the carrier to fail the audit and the requirements for creating a corrective action plan (CAP). The CAP must explain the actions the carrier will take to address the violations identified. CAPs must be submitted to the FMCSA Service Center within the number of days specified on the noticed of failure.

Failure to either submit a CAP, or implement the corrective actions, will result in the loss of FMCSA registration.

New companies often receive extra attention as they get acclimated to the rules, so an early violation will likely lead to greater, longer-term monitoring by the DOT, which no company wants to bother with.


Let Federal Carrier Help With Your DOT Audit Needs

No one looks forward to a DOT audit, but knowing what to expect will ensure it goes smoothly when it does happen. Regardless of whether you’re a new driver or tenured, the key to passing your audit is keeping your documentation organized at all times. Let Federal Carrier help you prepare for Audits by making sure your File Management is in check and that you are fully compliant.

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