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A DOT safety audit is a review of a motor carrier’s records and practices to verify that it has basic safety management controls in place to comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) and Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMRs). A DOT safety audit can be conducted by a certified U.S. federal safety investigator, state or provincial enforcement officer, or a third-party auditor authorized by the FMCSA1.

There are different types of DOT safety audits, depending on the purpose, scope, and frequency of the review. Here are some of the most common types of DOT safety audits:

New Entrant Safety Audit

A new entrant safety audit is a mandatory audit for new motor carriers that apply for a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) identification number, to operate in interstate commerce. A new entrant safety audit must be completed within 12 months after the carrier begins operations. The purpose of this audit is to ensure that the new entrant has established and implemented basic safety management controls, such as driver qualification, hours of service, vehicle maintenance, drug and alcohol testing, and insurance requirements.

A new entrant will automatically fail the safety audit for certain violations related to alcohol and drug use, driver qualifications, operations, and repairs and inspections. If the new entrant passes the safety audit, it will continue to be monitored by the FMCSA for 18 months. If the new entrant fails the safety audit, it will be subject to a corrective action plan or an expedited action notice, which may result in revocation of registration or suspension of operations.

Compliance Review

A compliance review is a comprehensive audit that evaluates a motor carrier’s compliance with all applicable FMCSRs and HMRs. A compliance review can be conducted at any time by the FMCSA or state or provincial authorities, based on the carrier’s safety performance data, complaint history, or random selection. The purpose of this audit is to identify and correct safety violations, assess civil penalties, and assign a safety rating to the carrier.

A compliance review consists of six factors: general, driver, operational, hazardous materials, accident, and vehicle. Each factor is assigned an acute or critical violation score based on the severity and frequency of the violations found. The overall safety rating of the carrier is determined by the combination of these scores. The possible ratings are satisfactory, conditional, or unsatisfactory. A satisfactory rating means that the carrier has adequate safety management controls in place. A conditional rating means that the carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place, but is allowed to continue operations with improvement plans. An unsatisfactory rating means that the carrier does not have adequate safety management controls in place, and is subject to an out-of-service order or other enforcement actions.

Focused Review

A focused review is a targeted audit that focuses on specific areas of concern within a motor carrier’s operations. A focused review can be conducted by the FMCSA or state or provincial authorities, based on the carrier’s safety performance data, complaint history, or random selection. The purpose of this audit is to address specific issues or problems that may pose a high risk to safety.

A focused review can cover one or more factors from the compliance review, such as driver qualifications, hours of service, vehicle maintenance, drug and alcohol testing, or hazardous materials. A focused review does not result in a safety rating for the carrier, but it may result in civil penalties or other enforcement actions if violations are found.

Conclusion

DOT safety audits are important tools for ensuring that motor carriers operate safely and comply with federal regulations. There are different types of DOT safety audits, each with its own purpose, scope, and frequency. Motor carriers should be prepared for any type of DOT safety audit by maintaining up-to-date records, conducting periodic inspections and maintenance on their vehicles, implementing effective safety management controls, and correcting any violations promptly. By doing so, motor carriers can avoid costly fines, improve their safety ratings, and enhance their reputation in the industry.