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Who is qualified to perform DOT annual and brake inspections?



It’s no secret those who operate commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) on public highways have a regulatory responsibility to ensure those vehicles are in a safe operating condition at all times. Under federal and many state laws, this is accomplished through a combination of daily driver walkaround inspections (e.g., pre-, post-, and en route inspections) and more thorough periodic inspections conducted by qualified inspectors. Of course, these inspections are critical to minimizing maintenance-related breakdowns and crashes.  


A question we receive fairly regularly is: what are the minimum qualification standards for those who conduct DOT annual inspections and/or brake inspections? We’ll dive into the details in this article, but generally speaking, Section 396.19 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) requires that CMV inspectors be capable of performing the required inspections “by reason of experience, training, or both,” which can include a combination of training or experience totaling at least 1 year.



What do DOT periodic inspection entail?

Before diving right into inspector qualifications, it’s important to first understand that Part 396 of the FMCSRs (more specifically, Appendix A to Part 396) establishes the minimum periodic inspection standards for CMVs. This Appendix identifies 15 key components and several sub-components that must be inspected and found to be in good working order in every DOT annual inspection. They are:

  • Brake system

  • Coupling devices

  • Exhaust system

  • Fuel system

  • Lighting devices

  • Safe loading

  • Steering mechanism

  • Suspension

  • Frame

  • Tires

  • Wheels and rims

  • Windshield glazing

  • Windshield wipers

  • Motorcoach seats

  • Rear impact guard


Individuals conducting DOT inspections must ensure each of these key components (as applicable) meet the minimum standards set forth in the appendix. If they don’t, then the CMV will fail its annual inspection and must be repaired before it can be operated.


Minimum qualifications for inspectors

Because DOT annual inspections are comprehensive examinations of a CMV's various mission-critical systems, those who are performing these inspections must be well-versed in identifying potential defects and adherence to established inspection protocols. Part 396 of the FMCSRs requires as much. But what exactly qualifies an inspector under the regulations?


First, per 49 CFR 396.19(a), CMV inspectors must possess a thorough understanding of the inspection criteria in Appendix A to Part 396. This includes familiarity with identifying components that may be defective and pose safety risks.


Second, CMV inspectors must be “knowledgeable of and have mastered the methods, procedures, tools and equipment used when performing an inspection.” This ensures they conduct a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the CMV's condition.


Third, CMV inspectors must be “capable of performing an inspection by reason of experience, training, or both as follows:”

  • Participation in a commercial motor vehicle manufacturer-sponsored training program or similar commercial training program designed to train students in commercial motor vehicle operation and maintenance;

  • Experience as a mechanic or inspector in a motor carrier or intermodal equipment maintenance program;

  • Experience as a mechanic or inspector in commercial motor vehicle maintenance at a commercial garage, fleet leasing company, or similar facility; or

  • Experience as a commercial motor vehicle inspector for a State, Provincial or Federal government.


In sum, to be qualified to perform DOT annual inspections, an individual must be knowledgeable of the regulatory inspection criteria and the methods and procedures for performing required inspections. And they must have at least 1 years’ worth of training and/or experience as a mechanic or inspector of CMVs. Notably, the regulations impose no formal certification requirement for inspectors. Inspectors could conceivably be employed by a motor carrier directly, by a state inspection facility, or by a commercial garage.


What are the minimum qualifications for individuals inspecting CMV brakes?

Unsurprisingly, a particularly critical component of any CMV are its brakes. Failing brakes can lead to devastating crashes. For these reasons, the federal regulations impose additional minimum qualifications for individuals who perform CMV brake inspections, maintenance, service, or repair. What are they?

Per 49 CFR 396.25, an individual is qualified to inspect and repair brakes if they:


  1. Understand the brake service or inspection task to be accomplished and can perform that task; and

  2. Are knowledgeable of and have mastered the methods, procedures, tools and equipment used when performing an assigned brake service or inspection task; and

  3. Are capable of performing the assigned brake service or inspection by reason of experience, training, or both as follows:

    1. Have successfully completed an apprenticeship program sponsored by a State, a Canadian Province, a Federal agency or a labor union, or a training program approved by a State, Provincial or Federal agency, or has a certificate from a State or Canadian Province that qualifies the person to perform the assigned brake service or inspection task (including passage of Commercial Driver's License air brake tests in the case of a brake inspection); or

    2. Have brake-related training or experience or a combination thereof totaling at least one year. Such training or experience may consist of:

      1. Participation in a training program sponsored by a brake or vehicle manufacturer or similar commercial training program designed to train students in brake maintenance or inspection similar to the assigned brake service or inspection tasks; or

      2. Experience performing brake maintenance or inspection similar to the assigned brake service or inspection task in a motor carrier or intermodal equipment provider maintenance program; or

      3. Experience performing brake maintenance or inspection similar to the assigned brake service or inspection task at a commercial garage, fleet leasing company, or similar facility.

In short, CMV brake inspectors need a clear understanding of the specific brake service or inspection they are conducting and how to perform it effectively. Similar to the requirements for those performing DOT annual inspections, brake inspectors must be proficient in the methods, procedures, tools, and equipment used for the assigned brake service or inspection. Further, brake inspectors can qualify through at least 1 years’ worth of experience and/or training in brake-related service and inspection.


Motor carriers’ obligations to retain proof of inspector qualifications

One aspect of the inspector qualification regulations that some motor carriers are surprised to learn is that they are obligated to obtain and retain evidence of the qualifications of each person they engage to perform the required DOT annual and/or CMV brake inspections. More specifically, Section 396.19(b) requires motor carriers “retain this evidence for the period during which that individual is performing annual motor vehicle inspections for the motor carrier…and for one year thereafter. However, motor carriers and intermodal equipment providers do not have to maintain documentation of inspector qualifications for those inspections performed as part of a State periodic inspection program.” The brake inspection regulation requires something similar for brake inspectors.


The FMCSA is authorized to, and many times does, request these types of inspector qualification records from motor carriers when conducting audits or compliance reviews, so it’s important carriers have them on hand. This includes records from inspectors who work for third-party commercial garages that perform the required inspections on the carrier’s behalf.


Conclusion

CMV inspections are important to minimizing maintenance-related breakdowns and crashes. Those who conduct the required inspections must meet the minimum standards set forth in 49 CFR 396.19 and 396.25, as applicable. Generally speaking, this includes at least 1 years’ worth of training and/or experience performing the required inspections. For their part, motor carriers must ensure those inspecting their CMVs meet these minimum standards and keep records of their qualifications in their files.


About Trucksafe Consulting, LLC: Trucksafe Consulting is a full-service DOT regulatory compliance consulting and training service. We help carriers develop, implement, and improve their safety programs, through personalized services, industry-leading training, and a library of educational content. Trucksafe also hosts a livestream podcast on its various social media channels called Trucksafe LIVE! to discuss hot-button issues impacting highway transportation. Trucksafe is owned and operated by Brandon Wiseman and Jerad Childress, transportation attorneys who've assisted some of the nation’s leading fleets to develop and maintain cutting-edge safety programs. You can learn more about Trucksafe online at www.trucksafe.com and by following Trucksafe on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Or subscribe to Trucksafe's newsletter for the latest highway transportation news & analysis. Also, be sure to check out eRegs, the first app-based digital version of the federal safety regulations aimed at helping carriers and drivers better understand and comply with the regulations.

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