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What fleets can do to reduce the risk of DOT and OSHA violations, inspections and out-of-service orders

FMSCA Violations

With the increase in roadside inspections, it pays to know the authorities, the most common equipment violations and how to prepare.

How can one burned-out lightbulb snowball into a $25,000 fine that threatens companies and truck drivers with red tape and reputation damages?

When fleets fail to heed DOT and OSHA equipment regulations and violate out-of-service orders, that little $3 lightbulb can cost a lot more.  

At Imperial Supplies, we’re hearing about the increase in inspections from our customers across the country, and we’re working with them to develop strategies for anticipating the parts they need to keep equipment in compliance.

Your vehicles’ chances of being inspected are growing. DOT and OSHA performed 237,257 more roadside inspections in 2021 than in 2020, according to the FMCSA. Compounding this issue—and perhaps even causing the increase in inspections—are the lingering equipment shortages. The reduction in tractor and trailer production has led fleets to extend the lifetime use of equipment. And because of the high demand for truck capacity, available equipment is in high use—adding strain and often delaying regular preventative maintenance.

Today’s increased attention from regulatory agencies and increased wear and tear on truck and trailer pools are two good reasons to get out ahead of the risks of an unexpected roadside or terminal inspection. Read on to learn who’s doing the inspecting, what the most common equipment violations are and what the risks of noncompliance can cost you so you can develop a smart compliance strategy.  

DOT and OSHA regulate trucking equipment violations.  

The Department of Transportation (DOT), through its agency the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) share responsibility for safety pertaining to trucks, trailers, the freight being hauled and the people doing the hauling.

The DOT has jurisdiction over interstate highway driving, Commercial Driving Licensing (CDL), drivers’ hours of service and the roadworthiness of the vehicles. Public roads are DOT’s primary domain. DOT’s regulations are enforced by federal, state or local partners; for example in New Jersey, the New Jersey State Police is the primary enforcement agency. Although the partners can vary, DOT’s enforcement agents have the authority to enter and perform inspections of a motor carrier’s vehicles or intermodal equipment in operation at any time and without warning.

OSHA has jurisdiction when trucks are off the highway, loading and unloading. Examples of these settings include distribution centers, factories, retail docks, port terminals and rail yards. OSHA also controls certain types of intrastate trucking, including trucks hauling building materials or agricultural products. In short, DOT preempts OSHA's jurisdiction over the interstate trucking industry when trucks travel public roads. OSHA's jurisdiction over trucks operating interstate is limited to vehicles operated in the workplace and not on public roads. Like DOT, OSHA conducts inspections without advance notice, however, employers have the right to require compliance officers to obtain an inspection warrant before entering the worksite.

Another entity regulating over-the-road trucking is the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). They conduct International Roadcheck, an annual three-day event where CVSA-certified inspectors examine trucks across the country—40,000 in 2021—and issue violations. In 2021, they also conducted an unannounced five-day inspection initiative of more than 13,000 vehicles transporting hazardous materials and dangerous goods.

Bottom line: beware and be ready.

Avoid the most common equipment violations.

Given the increase in vehicle inspections and ability for DOT or OSHA inspectors to strike at any time, a smart strategy is to anticipate spot inspections through vigilant maintenance. Know the government safety standards for parts and accessories, and pay careful attention to the following sections of the federal code that lead to common equipment violations.

393.9 Lamps operable, prohibition of obstructions of lamps and reflectors: Make sure all your lights are working, not blocked by your load or tailboard, covered by dirt or flickering.

393.11 Lamps and reflective devices: Reflectors and lamps need to be properly installed, located and functioning. The code lists 21 items, from hazard lights to reflectors, that are required to be in working order.

393.13 Retroreflective sheeting and reflex reflectors: Know the rules, their applicability, where to place retroreflective sheeting on trailers and how you should retrofit for semitrailers and trailers manufactured before December 1, 1993. There are specific positioning requirements for lower rear area, upper rear area and sides.

393.17, Lamps and reflectors - combinations in driveaway-towaway operation: Driveaway-towaway hauls have numerous and specific lighting requirements in addition to the basics for towing vehicles. Ensure that the following are in working order for mobile structure trailers: two stop lamps, two tail lamps, one reflex reflector on each side and two turn signal lamps.

393.19 Hazard warning signals: If your hazard warning signal operating unit doesn’t work independently of the ignition switch and causes all your turn signals to flash simultaneously, it’s a violation.

393.30 Battery installation: Regulations stipulate a number of measures you must take to cover, enclose and secure batteries—as well as prevent corrosion to the battery compartment. There are also specific measures you must take to ensure proper ventilation, drainage, grounding and separation from under seat fuel tanks.

393.40 Required brake systems: Every commercial motor vehicle must have brakes adequate to stop and hold the vehicle or combination of motor vehicles. You may also receive a violation if your brake system does not meet specific system requirements for service brakes, parking brakes, emergency brakes or interconnected brake systems. There are also brake requirements that are mandated by vehicle manufacture date in some cases.

393.41 Parking brake system: Each singly driven motor vehicle and combination of motor vehicles must be equipped with a parking brake system adequate to hold the vehicle or combination on any grade on which it is operated, under any condition of loading in which it is found on a public road free of ice and snow.

393.42 Brakes required on all wheels: Commercial motor vehicles must be equipped with brakes acting on all wheels. However, trucks or truck tractors having three or more axles and manufactured before July 25, 1980, are not required to have brakes on the front wheels but must meet standards of brake performance specified in section 393.52.

393.43 Breakaway and emergency braking: The government’s detailed requirements include a towing vehicle protection system, emergency brake requirements for trucks or truck tractors with air brakes, a second manual control device for vehicles equipped with vacuum brakes, breakaway braking contingencies for trailers in the event the trailer should break away from the towing vehicle and emergency valves to protect the air supply reservoir used to provide air for brakes from backflow of air.  

393.51 Warning signals, air pressure and vacuum gauges: Every bus, truck and truck tractor—with some exceptions for commercial vehicles manufactured before July 1, 1973—must be equipped with a signal that provides a warning to the driver when a failure occurs in the vehicle's service brake system. The warning signal must apply to hydraulic brakes, air brakes, vacuum brakes and hydraulic brakes applied or assisted by air or vacuum.

393.65 All fuel systems: Know the standards for systems that contain and supply fuel for the operation of motor vehicles or for the operation of auxiliary equipment installed on, or used in connection with, motor vehicles. The government’s rules stipulate safe positioning of fuel systems and secure installation to the motor vehicle. These include rules for acceptable fuel supply method, driver access to selection control valves, fuel line protection and excess flow valves.

393.67 Liquid fuel tanks: Government rules apply to performance standards, certification and markings of tanks containing or supplying fuel for the operation of commercial motor vehicles or for the operation of auxiliary equipment installed on, or used in connection with, commercial motor vehicles.

393.68 Compressed natural gas fuel containers: There are essential regulations pertaining to compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel containers used for supplying fuel for the operation of commercial motor vehicles or for the operation of auxiliary equipment installed on, or used in connection with, commercial motor vehicles. These rules include strict labeling requirements.

393.69 Liquefied petroleum gas systems: A fuel system that uses liquefied petroleum gas as a fuel for the operation of a motor vehicle or for the operation of auxiliary equipment installed on, or used in connection with, a motor vehicle must conform to the rules derived from the “Standards for the Storage and Handling of Liquefied Petroleum Gases” of the National Fire Protection Association.

393.100 Cargo securement standards: These rules apply to trucks, truck tractors, semitrailers, full trailers and pole trailers. To prevent loss of load when transporting cargo on public roads, commercial motor vehicles must be loaded and equipped to secure cargo from leaking, spilling, blowing over or falling from the vehicle. To prevent cargo from shifting and affecting the vehicle's stability or maneuverability, loads must be properly contained, immobilized or secured.

393.102 Minimum performance criteria for cargo securement devices and systems: The government stipulates that tiedown assemblies (including chains, wire rope, steel strapping, synthetic webbing and cordage) must be designed, installed and maintained to ensure that the maximum forces acting on the devices or systems do not exceed the manufacturer's breaking strength rating. That includes when the vehicle decelerates in the forward direction, accelerates in the rearward direction and accelerates in a lateral direction. There are additional performance criteria for devices to prevent vertical movement of loads that are not contained within the structure of the vehicle and others for articles that are contained within the structure of the vehicle.  

393.104 Standards for cargo securement devices and systems : Rules mandate that all tiedowns, cargo securement systems, parts and components used to secure cargo must be manufactured to meet government standards and maintained to be in proper working order when used to secure cargo with no damaged or weakened components. The rules extend to vehicle structures, floors, walls, decks, tiedown anchor points, headerboards, bulkheads, stakes, posts and associated mounting pockets used to contain or secure cargo. Cargo securement devices and systems cannot have damaged or weakened components, cracks or cuts. Material used as dunnage or dunnage bags, chocks, cradles, shoring bars or material used for blocking and bracing, must be free from damage or defects which would compromise the effectiveness of the securement system.

393.205 Wheels: Rules mandate that wheels and rims can’t be cracked or broken. Stud or bolt holes on the wheels cannot be elongated or out of round and no nuts or bolts can be missing or loose.

Violations can lead to heavy penalties for companies and drivers.

Knowing these most common violations and anticipating them, supports the safety of employees and the public. It also helps minimize fines for violations which can help control transportation costs. Serious OSHA violations can cost companies from $1,036 to $14,502 per violation. For willful or repeated serious offenses, that jumps to $10,360 to $145,027 per violation. Failing to abate the problem can rack up $14,502 per day beyond the abatement date, maxing out at 30 days.

Civil penalties imposed by the DOT on companies can reach $10,000 per offense and $2,500 per offense for individuals. Preventing an inspector from examining a facility, vehicle or records can bring a fine up to $10,000. Inspectors have the ability to place vehicles out-of-service. Violating that out-of-service order can bring a civil penalty of up to $25,000 for fleet owners and $2,500 for drivers who are first-time offenders or $5,000 for their second offense.

In addition to fines, violations of out-of-service orders can also result in suspension, revocation or cancellation of drivers’ CDLs or they can lead to drivers being disqualified for periods ranging from 90 days to five years.

Beware of costly CDL and record-keeping violations.

Equipment violations are only the beginning. Committing a CDL violation can lead to a fine of $2,500 for each offense. Failing to comply with DOT record-keeping rules can also cost you. Not completely and truthfully answering a question from the DOT in a timely fashion or failing to make, prepare or preserve a record in the form and manner required can lead to civil penalty up to $1,000 for each offense. Furthermore, each day of the violation can constitute a separate offense, adding up to $10,000 in additional fines. Knowingly falsifying, destroying or changing a required report or record or knowingly filing a false report can also lead to a civil penalty of up to $10,000 per violation.

Damage to fleet and driver records add to the cost of violations.

Aside from monetary damages, violating violations can burden drivers and asset owners with compliance, safety and accountability (CSA) points which are used by the FMCSA to ensure drivers and employers are complying with safety standards. Some examples: an inoperable turn signal or tail lamp racks up 6-point violations. A flat tire or tire with exposed fabric garners an 8-point violation. Those points stick with drivers’ and organizations’ records and have ramifications that can bring unwanted attention and scrutiny from the DOT and OSHA.  

It pays to get ahead of potential DOT and OSHA violations.

Minimizing penalties, out-of-service orders and damage to your record as a driver or fleet, is a numbers game. By focusing on preventing the most common violations through preventative maintenance, pre checks and post checks, companies can lower their chance of violating government regulations considerably. With inspections on the rise and equipment aging by the day, renewing your vigilance in conducting inspections and having parts and products on hand to rectify infractions before they’re noticed is a strategy that can save you. Talk to your Imperial Supplies Dedicated Account Advisor about which parts and supplies could help you see a valuable return on compliance.


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