Those tasked with maintaining and driving commercial motor vehicles know that a daily commercial vehicle inspection is a lynchpin of ensuring safety on the road. Proper inspection and maintenance makes vehicles safer and prevents crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Carriers have a strong interest in keeping not only their own drivers safe, but also everyone on the roads. 

To help keep carriers motivated to maintain safety, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) requires them to go through stringent inspection and reporting on the safety of their commercial vehicles. Drivers are legally required to conduct twice-daily vehicle Inspections, and for each one they must fill out a driver vehicle inspection report (DVIR) that records the results of the check-up. 

Vehicle inspection statistics make it clear that a large number of vehicles are not being kept in tip-top shape. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reports that 2,724,916 state and federal roadside inspections of commercial motor vehicles were carried out in 2020. During these inspections, discovery of serious violations of safety standards results in an Out-of-Service Order (OOS) that takes the truck and driver off the road until problems are fixed. In 2020, more than 1 in 5 of the commercial vehicles inspected received OOS citations.

For drivers to avoid being among that number, they need to learn how to conduct a thorough inspection, fill out a DVIR, and ensure that any problems on their vehicles get repaired promptly.

What is a DVIR?

A DVIR is a formal record of an inspection that a driver undertook on a commercial vehicle. The regulations governing DVIRs are specified by Federal Law 49 CFR 396.11, and enforcement is carried out by FMCSA and DOT.

FMCSA DVIR regulations require drivers to conduct these inspections at the beginning and end of each shift and on each vehicle used. A driver on a multi-day haul needs to complete a DVIR at the beginning and end of every driving day. The inspection covers a specified set of items, and the driver notes the results of the check-up on a DVIR inspection report that they submit to the carrier.  

There is no one official DVIR form that everyone must use; you can buy or make your own. But there are a few elements that any DVIR report must include:

  • A vehicle identifier, like the vehicle or license number
  • A listing of any defects or damage that could influence vehicle safety or contribute to a breakdown
  • Spaces for the three signatures

DVIR process

The federal vehicle inspection requirements include the inspection itself, the identification of defects, signing the report, and taking action to correct any problems.   

Vehicle Inspection

During a DVIR inspection, a driver will perform a “circle check” of the vehicle. This involves looking under the hood, checking the body for defects or damage, starting the engine, and testing the lights and brakes, among other actions.

The DVIR report should make note of any defects with a variety of parts of the vehicle. A daily vehicle inspection checklist might include:

  • Service brakes, including trailer brake connections
  • Parking brake
  • Steering function
  • Lights and reflectors
  • Tires
  • Horn
  • Windshield wipers
  • Rear view mirrors
  • Coupling hardware
  • Wheels and rims
  • Emergency equipment

Defect reporting

The driver is obliged to report any defects or damage to the vehicle that could make it a danger on the roads or lead to a breakdown.

Only 4% of DVIRs report damage or defects, but prior to 2014, drivers were required to file a DVIR even if — as is the case most of the time — no problem was present. In 2014, the FMCSA reversed the requirement that drivers of commercial vehicles submit a DVIR even when the inspection surfaced no defects or deficiencies in the vehicle. Under new federal vehicle inspection requirements, no filing has to be made if the vehicle showed no problems in the inspection.  

Signing the DVIR report

The driver who carried out the DVIR inspection signs the report. The driver inspecting the vehicle before it is taken out of the garage for the day signs on one of the form’s three lines. The driver who does the inspection at the end of the day signs on the second of the lines. If any defect or damage is being listed, the mechanic or carrier agent signs the final line to indicate repairs are being carried out.

If a truck is being operated by two drivers at once, such as in a long-haul team, only one driver between them needs to sign the DVIR report assuming they both agree about what’s on the form. 

After the final driver completes the form, they pass it along to the carrier. Carriers are required to retain DVIR forms for three months from the inspection date, either at their place of business or the location where the vehicle is maintained and stored.

Correcting problems

Carriers whose DVIRs identify defects that would affect the safety of the vehicle are obliged to immediately repair the problems. The goal is to restore the vehicle to safe operating condition so as to reduce danger on the roads and reduce the likelihood of crashes and breakdowns. 

How often do commercial vehicles need to be inspected?

Commercial vehicles must be inspected twice every day — before use each day and at the end of each day of work. The before-work inspection is called the pre-trip inspection, while the one at the end of the day is called the post-trip inspection. 

What is a pre-trip inspection?

A pre-trip inspection is a look-over of the vehicle that the driver does before taking the vehicle out of the garage for a day of work. Many drivers may feel it’s an imposition to do an inspection before using the vehicle. It’s very reasonable to wonder, “How long does a pre-trip inspection take?”

The good news is that this inspection is short and sweet — it only takes a few minutes. It requires observing and switching on and off various parts of the vehicle to ensure everything is working as it should. 

What is a post-trip inspection?

Post-trip inspection requirements are substantially the same as the pre-trip inspection expectations. However, a post-trip inspection must also include a trailer inspection, which should incorporate ensuring that the trailer’s tires are properly inflated. 

DVIR exemptions

Certain types of vehicle operators are exempt from DVIR inspection rules. There are three categories of operators that qualify for this exemption: 

  • Driveaway-towaway operations, in which the vehicle or trailer being towed is the commodity being transported
  • Motor carriers that have only a single commercial vehicle
  • Private motor carriers that transport passengers but not as a business operation

Responsibilities related to DVIRs

Responsibilities related to DVIRs are very serious; these actions are federally regulated, and noncompliance can result in steep fines. Additionally, drivers tasked with maintaining the good working order of heavy vehicles are taking responsibility for keeping others on the road safe. 

When a DVIR inspection turns up a defect or damage, the motor carrier has the responsibility to certify repairs, make any fixes, and replace defective parts. If repairs are not needed for the defect, then the carriers must certify that fact.

Before taking the vehicle into operation, the driver then must sign off on any repairs and check that the vehicle is working well. Carriers have a responsibility to maintain records of DVIRs and repairs for a month.

DVIR penalties for non-compliance 

The DOT fines for non-compliance with DVIR regulations and requirements are high, especially when the non-compliance involves falsification or negligence. Those who don’t follow the procedures properly may be on the hook for the following sums: 

  • Up to $1,270 per day for not completing a DVIR when required to
  • Up to $12,700 for falsifying a DVIR by neglecting to report a known safety problem
  • Up to $15,420 for neglecting to fix a safety defect that has been reported

These fines look painful, but they aren’t the end of the story. Non-compliance with DVIR regulations also may result in DOT taking a vehicle and driver out of service until repairs are complete and compliance is recertified. Having trucks out of service means lost revenue for companies, not to mention customer dissatisfaction, reputational harm, and an uptick in CSA scores. 

In addition to all this, there are the natural consequences or ignoring safety concerns: equipment damaged in crashes, risk to the company, injuries, and even — heaven forbid — fatalities. These aren’t traditional “penalties,” but they will end up penalizing drivers, fleets, and carriers. So those who operate commercial motor vehicles have a good reason to be interested in complying with FMCSA inspection requirements. 

What is an eDVIR?

While it’s perfectly permissible to fill out a DVIR report by hand on a paper form, that way of doing things is quickly being eclipsed by new digital tools. A variety of companies now offer eDVIR applications that allow drivers to fill out their DVIR reports with a few clicks on a computer or tablet. These systems automatically store and compile the DVIR forms, and sync automatically with fleet management software. 

Benefits of eDVIRs

eDVIR apps can be accessed from mobile devices, which means that drivers can easily transmit reports back to the carrier from anywhere, and supervisors can access reports in real time. 

There’s also an advantage in being able to hold the device in one hand instead of needing to grapple with a clipboard and pen. The driver can check fluid levels with one hand while entering data with the other, making the inspection process faster and more efficient.

Using a digital tool means fewer errors creep into the driver vehicle examination report due to illegible handwriting or smudged forms. Additionally, drivers can use the app to take photos of potential problems, such as a thin tire tread or a broken cable, and transmit that picture immediately to supervisors or mechanics for guidance or confirmation.

eDVIRs have other benefits for carriers’ management, since these applications serve as a repository for all driver inspection report records. They can compare reports, see historical trends, and search for a data points easily without having to leaf through stacks of paper. 

Final thoughts

Commercial motor vehicle drivers have a heavy responsibility on their shoulders; they’re on the hook not only for their own safety, but for the safety of everyone around them on the road. That’s why federal vehicle inspection requirements are so strict and must be taken so seriously.

With the right guidelines and a little digital help, drivers and carriers can make the process streamlined and sustainable for their fleets. Digital tools that can help in this endeavor go beyond just eDVIR. Fleet management solutions and dashcam products help drivers and carriers maintain organized operations, thorough records, and oversight of their fleets. Netradyne’s fleet safety solution can be an integral part of this modern-day, multi-node fleet-management approach. 

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