Roadside inspections: what to know about them and tips for getting through them

Roadside inspections in North America 

Roadside inspections can be a source of stress for many owner-operators. But, at some point during your owner-operator journey, you will face one. Read on to learn about why inspections occur and what to do to prepare yourself for a successful one.

The CVSA (Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance) is the governing body which oversees the roadside inspection rules. It is a non-profit organization. Their members reside in Canada, Mexico, and the United States. They design inspections with two goals in mind.

Firstly, achieve uniformity and reciprocity in expectations across the continent for commercial drivers. Secondly, keep the roads safe and reduce the number of potential accidents.

The inspections themselves may be conducted by members of the CVSA or a similar group. Regardless, they generally always follow CVSA inspection guidelines.

Levels of inspection

Inspectors may carry out one of eight different levels of inspection on commercial vehicles. It is dependent on the specific situation.

Level I – North American Standard Inspection

The most common and extensive inspection. All in all, it consists of 37 steps. During a Level I, the entire vehicle will be looked at from top to bottom. This also includes the interior and under the hood. An inspection of the driver and their credentials also takes place. Typically, this inspection can take up to 60 minutes to complete from start to finish.

Level II – Walk-Around Inspection

Generally, this is a fairly relaxed inspection compared to a Level I. It is an inspection of everything that can be seen without an inspector actually getting under or in the vehicle. The inspection usually takes around 30 minutes.

Level III – Driver Credential Inspection

A Level III inspection looks only at a driver’s license and credentials, not the truck. It usually only takes around 15 minutes to complete.

Level IV – Special Inspections

These take place periodically for different reasons. The type of inspection is usually a one-off in a specific place to examine an item or trend. Such examinations may be conducted to collect data to support a study. For example, perhaps a group (such as CVSA members or maybe the DOT) will want to study a common violation from the last year to see if there has been any improvement. The time to complete a Level IV inspection varies greatly depending on the parameters of the study.

Level V – Vehicle Only Inspection

This inspection includes all the vehicle related details in a level one. However, an inspector will not examine the driver themselves. A vehicle-only inspection will take around 30 minutes.

Level VI – Inspection of Transuranic Waste and Highway Route Controlled Quantities of Radioactive Materials

Level VI inspections are only applicable if you haul radioactive waste or cargo. Also, similar to a Level I, a Level VI will take around 60 minutes to complete.

Level VII – Jurisdictional Mandated Commercial Vehicle Inspection

Usually this applies to school buses, tour shuttles and other commercial vehicles. Commercial truck drivers and owner-operators should not worry about this level.

Level VIII – Electronic Inspection

This type of inspection is quite new. It can be conducted electronically while the driver is on the road. The time to complete one of these inspections will vary. However, drivers should be too concerned, as they can be working while the inspection is conducted.

For a more in-depth look at what goes on at each inspection level, have a look at the CVSA’s inspection page.


Tips to prepare for an inspection

So now that you know a bit about the different levels of inspection, you probably want to see some tips to help you be better prepared for an inspection.

1. Keep your truck clean and organized

Keep your truck’s cab tidy and sometimes the inspector will not take the time to do a level one inspection. If your interior and exterior look good after a quick glance, a busy inspector may just get you to move along. However, if you do end up getting inspected you will be off to a good start!

2. Keep your documentation handy

Keeping all your documents organized and in an easy-to-grab place will make your inspection go much more smoothly. Also, make sure your documents are all up to date. Otherwise, that may raise a red flag for an inspector. Bonus tip: keep your documents all together in a ring binder to make it easy for the inspector to go through it all at once. Overall keep yourself calm and collected, have a clean truck and have organized documents. With all of this in order, the inspector may again not go through with the full level one.

3. Ensure your ELD is working well

Now that ELDs are mandatory in the US and Canada, inspectors will ask to see your ELD logs as part of the inspection. Additionally, make sure you know how to work it and you can access your logs quickly. If you do not have your ELD yet (since penalties will not come into effect until June 2022), just let the inspector know and have your logbook ready.

4. Inspect your truck periodically

It is important you inspect your own truck periodically so you can identify issues quicker and fix them. Then, you will not have to face a citation by an inspector. The CVSA recommends doing a pre-trip check before every long-haul journey.

5. Know where your emergency supplies are

Make sure you can quickly and easily get to your warning triangles, fire extinguisher and other emergency supplies. This is important both for emergency and inspection purposes.

6. Admit to known problems with the truck

If you have done a pre-trip inspection, you should know whether there any issues with the truck. Both drivers and inspectors alike have reported waived citations if the driver has come clean about an issue. Make sure you let the inspector know how recently you discovered the issue. Particularly stress that you are going to get it fixed soon.

7. Keep extra equipment on hand

A spare tire is mandatory, so make sure you have one. Additionally, it is a good idea for you to have spare tarps and straps on hand. Improperly secured cargo is a common citation at roadside inspections. However, if you have a spare tarp and strap, the inspector may just have you tighten up your load instead of writing a citation.

8. Stay calm and do not rush

Our final tip to you is to stay calm throughout the inspection and try not to rush it. Everything will go more simply for you if you have your nerves under control. Basically, do not try to rush the process or you risk coming off as impatient to the inspector. Follow these tips and always do your pre-trip. After all, the more prepared you are for inspections, the more likely you are to keep calm during one.

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