Trucking Law: Busting myths about inspection regulations

While most truck drivers know the importance of daily vehicle inspections, many might be surprised about what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations actually require. Here is some clarification:

MYTH 1: A driver must prepare a pre-trip inspection report before he drives the truck.

A carrier may require a driver pre-trip inspection report but isn’t required to do so.

For post-trip reports, 49 C.F.R. 396.11 mandates that a motor carrier require its drivers to prepare a written report “at the completion of each day’s work on each vehicle that the driver operates.” This post-trip report must list defects in parts and accessories identified in the regulation, such as tires and windshield wipers, and the report must be submitted to the carrier. However, if there are no defects, no report is required.

The one exception to the post-trip report requirement is intermodal equipment provided by an intermodal equipment provider.

When defects are found in certain parts and accessories identified in the regulation, such as tire tread depth, a report must be submitted to the carrier.When defects are found in certain parts and accessories identified in the regulation, such as tire tread depth, a report must be submitted to the carrier.

MYTH 2: A driver must perform a pre-trip inspection.

Technically, this is not true. 49 C.F.R. Sec. 392.7 simply requires a driver to be “satisfied” that certain parts and accessories identified in the regulation are “in good working order” before driving. Similarly, 49 C.F.R. Sec. 396.13 requires that a driver be satisfied that any commercial vehicle he operates is safe to drive. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration guidance says a driver may rely on a co-driver’s inspection or a safety lane inspection for assurance that a commercial vehicle is safe to operate.

MYTH 3: A driver must record at least 15 minutes on his log for a pre-trip inspection.

This is a whopper of a tale told by truck stop lawyers. 49 C.F.R. Sec. 395.8 requires all time recorded on a log to be accurate. If you log five minutes for an inspection that actually took 15 minutes to perform, then you are guilty of log falsification, which is a felony. Of course, a thorough pre-trip inspection may take at least 15 minutes, but no particular length of time is required by law. The only requirement is that the driver be satisfied that the truck and trailer are in good working order.

Paul O. Taylor is managing partner of Truckers Justice Center and has represented truck drivers for over 25 years. He can be reached at (855) 943-3518 or at TruckersJusticeCenter.com.Paul O. Taylor is managing partner of Truckers Justice Center and has represented truck drivers for over 25 years. He can be reached at (855) 943-3518 or at TruckersJusticeCenter.com.

MYTH 4: A violation-free Level 1 roadside inspection is a substitute for an annual inspection.

49 C.F.R. Sec. 396.17 requires a carrier to perform (or have performed by a second party) detailed “periodic inspections” addressing parts and accessories named in the regulation. A Level 1 inspection once satisfied this requirement, but in 2016, FMCSA eliminated a roadside inspection as a substitute for the annual periodic inspection. However, the agency allows inspections by state officials – in some states and provinces that have mandatory inspection programs satisfying federal requirements – to substitute for the annual inspection.

MYTH 5: An “annual” DOT inspection must be performed not less frequently than annually.

This is not exactly true. 49 C.F.R. Sec. 396.17 uses the heading “Periodic Inspection,” but the regulation also cites “annual inspection.” What’s required is that the “annual inspection” be performed “at least once during the preceding 12 months.” Thus, a periodic inspection performed in accordance with Appendix G on Nov. 1, 2019, is good until Nov. 30, 2020, because it was performed within the preceding 12 months. So at the very longest, the “annual” inspection legally might extend over almost 13 months.

MYTH 6: A carrier may not limit the amount of time a driver may take to perform a vehicle inspection.

In the case of a pre-trip inspection, the U.S. Department of Labor has ruled that an employer may impose reasonable inspection methods and reasonable time limitations on the inspection. See Calhoun v. U. S. Dept. of Labor, United Parcel Service, 576 F.3d 2001 (4th Cir. 2009).

Find all Trucking Law installments via this link.

The Business Manual for Owner-Operators
Overdrive editors and ATBS present the industry’s best manual for prospective and committed owner-operators. You’ll find exceptional depth on many issues in the 2021 edition of Partners in Business.
Download
Partners in Business Issue Cover