The Motor Carrier Inspection Process

Motor carrier inspections often occur at weigh stations and ports of entry, but they can occur wherever inspection officers feel it is safe to perform one. When it comes to inspections, there are differing procedures for drivers and vehicles.

Motor Carrier Inspection Driver Inspections

Approximately 5% of driver inspections result in OOS orders, underscoring the importance of understanding what the inspection process entails. The following sections provide an overview of the main components of driver inspections.

motor carrier inspection

The Interview

Driver inspections typically begin with an interview. In this portion of the inspection, the inspection officer will start by approaching the vehicle, making note of its general condition. The more issues an inspector notices as they approach the vehicle, the more likely they are to perform a full inspection as opposed to a driver-only inspection.

Once the officer reaches the driver, they will introduce themselves and begin the interview. Typically, officers will start with general questions, which can include the following:

  • What is your name?
  • Who do you work for?
  • What are you hauling?
  • Where are you coming from?
  • Where are you going?
  • Where and when did you start your day?
  • What problems have you encountered lately?

Officers will compare the driver’s answers to these questions to other information gathered throughout the inspection. Furthermore, during the interview, the officer will provide basic instructions to the driver and prepare them for the rest of the inspection.

It should be noted that inspectors will also examine the driver’s behavior throughout the interview and inspection. Specifically, the inspector will try to determine if the driver may be impaired by illness, fatigue, drugs or alcohol. Based on the inspector’s suspicions, drivers could be subjected to:

  • A fatigue assessment
  • A field sobriety test
  • An examination by an officer trained in drug recognition

In some cases, drivers may be arrested and asked to take a drug or alcohol test.

Motor Carrier Inspection

Motor Carrier Inspection Document Verification

As part of driver inspections, officers will verify what motor carrier the driver works for and whether or not that driver is qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Often, inspectors will ask drivers for the vehicle’s registration, logs, shipment paperwork, medical cards, licenses and similar paperwork.

In terms of motor carrier-related information, inspectors will check that:

  • The motor carrier’s DOT number is current and not inactive.
  • The motor carrier does not have any outstanding OOS orders.
  • The motor carrier’s Unified Carrier Registration is current (used for interstate carriers).
  • The carrier has valid for-hire authority, if applicable.
  • The vehicle’s required credentials are correct and valid.

For drivers, inspectors will:

  • Run driver’s licenses to secure a motor vehicle report (MVR). This is done to verify that the driver’s license is current and valid. Inspectors will also note any classes, endorsements and restrictions detailed on the license, ensuring drivers are qualified to operate the vehicle.
  • Verify that the driver is medically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle. For commercial driver’s license holders, this involves ensuring medical information listed on MVRs is current. For other license holders, inspectors will review the driver’s medical card. Inspectors will also check that drivers are complying with any medical terms listed on their license or medical card (e.g., checking that the driver is wearing corrective lenses).
  • Check that drivers have the necessary exemptions if they have a condition that would normally disqualify them from driving.


As part of the inspection process, officers will review a driver’s RODS, as well as any supporting documents (e.g., bills of lading, shipment paperwork and fuel receipts). This is typically the most time-consuming portion of driver inspections.

As part of this process, inspection officers will examine logs for the previous seven days, checking that:

  • The correct logs are being used, whether it be electronic or paper logs.
  • There isn’t any missing information or entries.
  • There are no HOS violations.
  • Records aren’t being falsified.

The specific steps involved in an HOS review will depend on the type of log the driver is using.

Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIRs)

As part of driver inspections, officers will ask for DVIRs. While drivers aren’t typically required to carry DVIRs, officers can request that drivers present them if they are readily available. When officers review DVIRs, they will check for unresolved vehicle issues and ensure any DVIRs that indicate issues were completed correctly. This is important, as there are significant fines for drivers who operate vehicles with known defects.

Annual (Periodic) Inspection

Inspection officers will verify that the vehicles have undergone an annual inspection, also referred to as a periodic inspection. For combination vehicles, officers will ask for proof of an annual inspection for each piece of equipment in the combination. To prove annual inspections were completed, drivers can provide a copy of annual inspection reports or show the inspection officer a decal that indicates an inspection was performed.

Once proof on an annual inspection has been provided, officers will verify that the inspection took place within the last 12 months. If drivers can’t provide proof of an annual inspection, or if an investigation shows the inspection didn’t occur in the last year, the officer will write a citation.

Motor Carrier Inspection Wrap-up

Driver-only inspections typically conclude after officers verify an annual inspection was conducted. When completing the inspection, officers will make note of the driver, motor carrier, vehicle and any violations that were discovered.

Officers will then compare any issues to the CVSA’s North American Out-of-Service Criteria to determine whether or not the driver should be allowed to continue to operate a commercial motor vehicle. Again, drivers may be placed OOS for a variety of reasons, including if they are caught driving with a suspended license, carrying the wrong type of license, operating a vehicle impaired or violating HOS regulations.

After the inspection is complete, officers will provide drivers with a copy of the report. If the driver is placed OOS, they will be given clear instructions as to what they need to do before they can operate a commercial motor vehicle again. If the driver received a violation, but that violation did not result in an OOS order, drivers must rectify the issue as soon as possible.

Vehicle Inspections

Approximately 20% of vehicle inspections result in OOS orders, underscoring the importance of understanding what the inspection process entails. The following sections provide an overview of the main components of vehicle inspections.

Driver Prep

Before beginning the vehicle inspection, officers will generally provide an overview of the process and highlight safety precautions to ensure the inspection goes smoothly. For instance, officers may instruct drivers not to move the vehicle or operate any of the controls unless explicitly asked.

It’s critical for drivers to follow the officer’s instructions throughout the entire inspection process. A lapse in concentration could result in injury or failed portions of the inspection (e.g., the officer asks the driver to activate headlights, but the driver doesn’t follow their instructions).


During the walk-around portion of the vehicle inspection, officers will review all visible lights and mechanical components. They will not look under the vehicle at this stage of the inspection.

To begin, drivers will be asked to open the hood of the vehicle so all engine and steering components can be examined. In particular, officers will be looking for damage as well as loose components, connection points or hardware. They will also examine the compressor and look for any leaks. For full vehicle inspections, officers may check brake adjustments as well.

After inspecting the engine and steering components, the officer will walk around the vehicle, performing a visual inspection as they go. At this point, they will check that the following components are functioning and free of damage and excessive wear:

  • The windshield and side windows
  • The windshield wipers and washer system
  • Any required lights
  • Visible air and brake lines
  • Cargo securement systems
  • Coupling devices
  • The exhaust system
  • Visible portions of the vehicle’s frames
  • The fuel system
  • Visible suspension components
  • Wheel assemblies, including the tires, rims, lugs, wheels and hubs

In some cases, inspections will end after the officer completes the walk-around. In these instances, the officer will document the driver portion of the inspection as well as any vehicle defects.

The Underside of a Motor Carrier Inspection

For full vehicle inspections, officers will inspect the underside of the vehicle after performing the walk-around inspection. During the full vehicle inspection, officers will examine the following:

  • Brake systems, including the lines, chambers, connecting hardware, pads and any other related parts
  • Brake adjustments
  • Driveshafts and driveline components
  • Lower exhaust components
  • The inside of the frame
  • The lower fuel system components
  • The inside of suspension components

Braking, Steering and Coupling Testing

Following an inspection of the vehicle’s underside, inspectors will work with the driver to test braking systems, steering systems and coupling devices:

  • Braking systems—Officers will check tractor protection valves and trailer emergency brakes. For air brake vehicles, drivers will have to disconnect air supply hoses. Drivers will then be asked to step on the brakes, which allows inspectors to verify whether or not the protection valve has closed. As part of their review of braking systems, inspectors will also verify that ABS and low-air warning lights function as intended.
  • Steering systems—To test steering systems, officers will position themselves where they can measure the steering wheel movement. The officer will then have the driver move the steering wheel, measuring how far it travels before the tire moves.
  • Coupling devices—To test coupling devices, the officer will remove the chocks. They will then wiggle the truck or tractor against the trailer while the trailer brakes are locked. This is done to measure free play in the coupling system.

Inspection Wrap-up

When completing the vehicle inspection, officers will make note of the driver, motor carrier, vehicle and any violations that were discovered. Officers will then compare any issues to the CVSA’s North American Out-of-Service Criteria to determine whether or not the vehicle should be placed OOS.

Again, vehicles may be placed OOS for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • The vehicle has a flat tire.
  • The brakes are defective or damaged.
  • A critical required light is not functioning.
  • Cargo is secured improperly.
  • Steering components are defective or excessively worn.

If a vehicle is placed OOS, the issue must be corrected before it’s allowed to leave the inspection site. For critical issues that cannot be fixed on-site, vehicles may need to be towed away. For violations that do not result in OOS orders, issues must be rectified as soon as possible.

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