Waste and recycling haulers mostly drive intrastate, or within a commercial zone, and many troopers do not pull them in for roadside inspections, but fleets still need to be prepared for formal DOT audits and events like Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) 2021 International Roadcheck coming May 4-6.
While on the road, inspectors look for physical defects and visible violations that warrant a truck to be pulled over for a full roadside inspection. We frequently assist fleets to comply with the complex DOT regulations and see cargo securement and vehicle maintenance violations for waste and recycling haulers.
This year the International Roadcheck will focus on lights and hours-of-service (HOS) violations. Last year’s blitz showed that HOS was the top driver out-of-service violation, accounting for 34.7 percent of all driver out-of-service conditions.
While many fleets in the waste hauler industry meet the HOS short-haul exemption, carriers then often assume that HOS regulations do not affect their fleet. Below we highlight four areas where DOT inspectors find common waste hauler violations during inspections and audits: HOS, vehicle maintenance, cargo securement and driver qualification (DQ) files.
To keep fatigued drivers off the road, hour-of-service regulations limits how long and when a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driver can drive. Most waste and recycling haulers only operate within the state (intrastate) and assume hours-of-service rules do not apply to them.
However, states adopt the federal regulations so that the regulations remain consistent between all types of operations. Hours-of-service rules will apply to intrastate operations; however, states may and often do amend certain parts of the rules.
For example, a state may extend driving time from 11 to 12 hours; however, this amendment would only apply to true intrastate operations in that state.
While most fleets in this industry are short-haul carriers and do not require the previous seven days of time logs, DOT inspectors at a roadside inspection frequently ask for them. Drivers just need to tell the inspector that “we are short-haul and our company retains time records at their business.”
If the officer does not believe the driver, they can follow up with the company to get verification. If a violation is given for not having the last seven days in the truck, it can be challenged and removed.
However, during a DOT audit and request by an authorized representative of the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) or State official, the records must be produced within a reasonable period of time, usually about two working days, at the location where the review takes place.
If occasionally a driver goes over the 14-hour on-duty window when operating within the short-haul exemption (not more than eight days in any 30-day period), the driver should, as soon as they realize they will be going over the 14 hours, create a paper record of duty status for that day, making sure to take their 30-minute break as it is now no longer exempt.
However, the driver does not need to go back and recreate the last seven days into the log format.
Vehicle Maintenance Issues
Maintaining equipment is one of the most important tasks a motor carrier must perform to ensure safety and reliability. The most common method roadside inspectors use to select a vehicle for inspection is whether there is a visual defect.
During the 2020 International Roadcheck, the top five vehicle violations were related to brake systems, tire, lights, brake adjustment, and cargo securement.
If there are ongoing vehicle maintenance issues, typically we see some mechanics that do not keep a good paper trail of parts they are using and repairs that are made.
For example, one company we helped upgrade their Conditional rating bought bulk parts for inventory but were not keeping track of the inventory to show they when they replaced something.
Alongside the paperwork showing that a maintenance issue was fixed, we also need to see the corresponding driver vehicle inspection report (DVIR) noting the defect. Some of the easiest things to catch during a pre-trip inspection are also the most common violations written up on a roadside inspection.
For example, low tread depth and damaged sidewalls are easily visible and usually do not wear out on one trip. Drivers just need to be educated on what they are looking for and what the DOT is looking for when they are going to write up a violation.
Best practices for vehicle maintenance include:
- performing an inventory of all fleet vehicles and maintenance to determine regularly required maintenance activities and parts,
- creating a preventive maintenance schedule based on the manufacturer’s recommendations for frequency, and
- establishing record-keeping report and storage methods
Cargo Securement and Weight Issues
Cargo being transported on the highway must remain secured on or within the transporting vehicle so that it does not leak, spill, blow off, fall from or otherwise become dislodged from the vehicle.
As we mentioned earlier, one of the top five vehicle violations during the 2020 International Roadcheck were related to cargo securement. For example, rollback tow trucks and trucks that pick-up dumpsters to take to dump often have a lot of debris flying off them.
It is important to not forget about cargo securement tarping around demolished vehicles that could lose debris or over dumpsters that a contractor may have filled up too high. Tiedowns attached to the cargo work by counteracting the forces acting on the cargo. The angle where the tiedown attaches to the vehicle should be shallow, not deep (ideally less than 45°). During a pre-trip inspection, make sure that cargo is properly distributed and adequately secured, make sure that all securement equipment and vehicle structures are in good working order, and ensure that nothing obscures front and side views or interferes with the ability to drive the vehicle or respond in an emergency.
Similarly, one of the largest problems during a roadside inspection was household garbage collectors being overweight on an axle. This is why it is imperative to know how much your cargo weighs and know where to put it on the trailer.
DQ Files Issues
The last area we see common violations for waste and recycling haulers are driver qualification files. FMCSA considers the driver hiring process to be a critical element in building and maintaining a safe carrier operation and a driver’s personnel file is required to include information of past employment, drug testing history, motor vehicle records, credit history and more.
All DQ file rules affect carriers in the waste hauler industry and, during audits, we often see fleets with nearly non-existent driver files. Failure to maintain these driver qualification file basics lead to DOT fines, CSA violations, unsatisfactory safety rating and even out-of-service orders.
In 2019, there were more than 3,500 enforcement cases alone that averaged over $6,600 in fines per company, with the average cost of a Driver Qualification File violation fine over $600 per fine.
It is important to understand what the common DQ file violations are and how to prevent them from happening in your company’s driver qualification file management process. Common DQ file mistakes include:
- not obtaining a driver motor vehicle record,
- not keeping a driver qualification file long enough, and
- not having important drug test history and medical card on file
Managing driver files becomes an ongoing burden as employers are required to keep files current for drug tests, physical exams, safety records, annual MVRs, commercial driver’s licenses, endorsements and even conducting annual driver reviews (a burdensome process). For fleets with high driver turnover, this problem becomes amplified.
Remember, while this year’s International Roadcheck is focused on lights and hours-of-service violations, drivers are still dealing with roadside inspections every day.
DOT regulations are complex and is important to keep your drivers trained and updated on the ever-changing rules and regulations. Be sure to have managers, or an outside third party, to organize a mock audit to look over DQ files and vehicle records in the eyes of a DOT inspector.
No matter what, if you are pulled in for a roadside inspection, keep calm and respectful and the inspection will go by more quickly.