Doug Marcello

WHY IT MATTERS:  Safety protects profits, not draining it as an expense burden many erroneously believe.

WHAT’S THE PROBLEM:  Too many view safety as just an expense.  A burden.  A drain.

The folks in finance who live-and-die by the P & L statements, myopically see “safety” on the expense lines rather than what it is—an investment.

They look at money spent on safety as a hemorrhage of profits.  The result—safety expenditures are internally challenged.  They are shortsightedly cut to puff profits.

Like an owner-operator reducing maintenance during tough times.  Short term return, but a long term loss.

The reality is that reducing expenditures for effective safety programs can actually cost more off the bottom line.

I had a client with a $1 million deductible.  He would tell me that how his company did at year end depended on how I did in the courtroom.

WHAT IS THE REALITY:  Safety saves.  Lives.  Injuries.  And Money.

This is especially true in today’s world of trucking companies taking on risk to reduce the amount that their insurance will increase.  It’s their deductible.  Their “retention.”

The result is that companies pay for the first $X per accident up to the amount of their deductible.  Where does that money come from?  Off the bottom line.

Safety is an investment to prevent the incidents that drain revenue.  Prevent the “death by a thousand cuts” of the “costs of defense payments” made even when there is no fault or no injuries.

That starts with safety.  Investment in safety.  Investment in technology.  But also investment in a culture that puts safety above all else.

No compromise.  Safety compromises cost.

SUPPORTED BY STUDY:  ATRI issued its study on the issue, “The Rising Insurance Costs of the Trucking Industry.”  A key takeaway from the study is that premium is no longer the sole determination of costs. It is just the start.

Instead, the key is “Total Costs of Risk”—premium plus deductible payments plus safety investment.  And the result?

It found that, “Carriers that increased deductibles or [self-insured retention] levels as a strategy for lowering premiums successfully lowered our-of-pocket costs more often than other carriers,,,”

Eighty (80) percent of those that increased retention and deductibles decreased their MCMIS crash rates the following year.  “This counter-intuitive finding appears to result from a heightened awareness of increased liability and exposure that leads to increased safety investment.” (Emphasis added)

And how did they do it?  “As noted in the research, this likely requires a top-down emphasis on safety culture starting with the senior executives who authorize changes in coverage, deductibles and/or SIR levels.”

Further, ATRI recommends carrier evaluate all costs associated with risk, including coverage, deductibles and/or SIR levels, financial and litigation liability exposure, safety technology investments, driving hiring and training, and out-of-expenses.”

“Safety technology investments.”  That’s the perspective.

SAFETY IS “ANTI-REPTILIAN”:  Investment in safety is not just preventative.  It is also a proactive defense against a Reptilian attack.

The Reptile Theory isn’t about the accident.  Nuclear verdicts rarely, if ever, detonate because of the facts of the accident.

The Reptile lawyer preys upon “Systemic Failures”.  Things you do on a ongoing basis that can be levered to inflame the jury and explode a verdict.

Your “safety investment” deprives them of the explosive source.  The “systemic failure.”

Rather than reeling in the deposition to the Reptilian inquisition, you can respond, “I’m glad you asked that question.  Let me tell you about safety program.”

BOTTOM LINE:  Safety profits.  Rather than a drain, safety keeps money on your bottom line.  And the bottom line is, well, the bottom line.

An Overview of CSA Scores & Why They’re So Important


The topic of CSA scores often dominates conversations in the trucking industry, both with for-hire and private fleets. But what are CSA scores, and why do they hold such significant weight with truck drivers and trucking companies?

In this guide, we’ll take a look at what Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) scores are and why they’re so essential by providing insights into their calculation, importance, and the best methods for improvement.

What are CSA Scores?

CSA scores are percentiles calculated through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Safety Measurement System (SMS) to assess a carrier’s safety performance. The scores, which are assigned to carriers based on their safety performance, are a part of the CSA program, a safety measurement initiative managed by the FMCSA.

CSA scores are essentially designed to hold truck drivers, owner-operators, and fleet operators accountable for compliance with safety regulations.

How are CSA Scores Calculated?

CSA scores are determined based on roadside inspection, traffic enforcement, and crash report data from the previous 24 months. These scores reflect multiple factors, including the number of violations and crashes attributed to the fleet, the severity of those violations and crashes, as well as the age of them. More severe events count more as do more recent events. The factors are viewed in the context of carrier size (e.g., number of trucks and miles driven).

Carriers receive a CSA score for each of the seven Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Categories (BASICs):

  • Unsafe Driving
  • Hours of Service Compliance
  • Vehicle Maintenance
  • Driver Fitness
  • Hazmat Compliance
  • Crash Indicator
  • Controlled Substances and Alcohol

Below, we’ll take a deeper look into each of the seven basic categories.

Unsafe Driving

This category focuses on the operation of a commercial motor vehicle in a dangerous or careless manner. It includes dangerous practices such as speeding, texting, not wearing a seatbelt, or improper lane changes.

Crash Indicator

According to the DOT’s official SMS methodology, “this BASIC is based on information from State-reported crashes that meet reportable crash standards.” This includes crashes that result in a fatality, injury requiring treatment away from the scene, or enough vehicle damage to require towaway.

HOS Compliance

This BASIC reflects compliance with hours of service limitations (e.g., maximum driving time) and recordkeeping requirements, including the use of an electronic logging device.

Vehicle Maintenance

This BASIC measures compliance with vehicle maintenance and general condition requirements, including vehicle defects (e.g., faulty brakes, bald tires).

Controlled Substances/Alcohol

This BASIC measures compliance with drug and alcohol regulations, including prohibitions on use and employer requirements to test for misuse.

Hazardous Materials Compliance

This BASIC measures compliance with regulations relating to the safe transportation of hazardous materials, including marking, packaging, loading, and the possession of appropriate paperwork for each shipment.

Driver Fitness

This BASIC reflects compliance with regulations requiring employers to ensure drivers are “fit” to drive. In other words, drivers must meet minimum qualifications with respect to age, medical condition, and licensure.

Why Should I Care About a CSA Score?

carrier’s CSA scores reflect its compliance with Federal safety regulations. A good score can significantly reduce the possibility of interventions, such as roadside inspections and on-site audits.

Maintaining low CSA scores comes with a lot of benefits, including:

  • Fewer DOT audits and roadside inspections
  • Better opportunity to bypass weigh stations
  • Lower insurance rates
  • Better reputation in the industry

An essential aspect of getting and keeping a good CSA score lies in hiring drivers with strong safety records. A good place to start is by looking at a potential hire’s Pre-employment Screening Program (PSP) records, which can let you know a lot about their willingness to play it safe.

What are Good and Bad CSA Scores?

Similar to an ISS score, CSA scores are calculated on a percentage scale of zero to 100. A score of 100 equals the worst possible performance, while a zero indicates the best performance (or a lack of data on which to derive a meaningful score). The FMCSA sets intervention thresholds based on crash risk analyses and professional judgment. Generally, staying far below these thresholds positively impacts the operations, profitability, and reputation of carriers and owner-operators.

How to Check Your CSA Score

CSA scores are not publicly available, but checking your scores is easy for carriers. Here are the steps:

  1. Request a PIN online from the FMCSA website, by email, or via a hard copy letter in the mail.
  2. Visit the CSA program website using your PIN and carrier name or DOT number.
  3. View your CSA scores and underlying data that affect your score (crashes, violations, etc.).

Can You Improve Your CSA Score?

CSA scores aren’t set in stone. With persistent compliance, they can be improved by making safety and compliance a core focus of your company. In doing so, you’ll not only increase your CSA scores, but you’ll also improve your ISS scores, which makes weigh station bypass much more likely.

Drivewyze can play a significant role in helping improve your CSA score by providing real-time insights into your fleet’s safety and compliance status with tools like PreClear and Safety+.Our bypass service even records and measures safety inspection data (including violations), highlighting specific areas where your scores can be improved across an entire fleet.

FAQs About CSA Scores

Do Drivers Receive CSA Scores? 

No, drivers do not receive individual CSA scores. The scores are assigned to carriers based on their violations and crashes. That means that when an individual driver gets a violation, it negatively impacts the carrier, not the driver (other than their PSP records).

Do CSA Scores Really Matter? 

CSA scores are critical to trucking companies. They have a major influence on a carrier’s reputation, safety record, and the potential for negative interventions by FMCSA. All of those factors impact your ability to get customers and remain in operation.

What is CSA Compliance? 

CSA compliance is another way of saying “following the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations.” Both drivers and carriers are held accountable for violations (to varying degrees), so it’s in the best interest of all parties to prioritize low scores.

How Long Does it Take to Improve Your CSA Score? 

That can depend on various factors, including the severity and frequency of violations. If you have several recent and severe violations, it can take longer than usual to improve your score. Violations occurring in the most recent six months bear the most weight. Those more than 12 months old carry the least.

What Happens if You Receive a Violation? 

If a driver receives a violation, it is assigned to the carrier and not the individual driver. Repeated violations can negatively affect a carrier’s CSA score.

The ELD Hacking Threat

Jack Roberts

Did you know your fleet’s electronic logging devices may be vulnerable to hackers?

It’s true. Serjon, a cybersecurity firm specializing in fleet transportation security, held a press conference during the Technology & Maintenance Council annual meeting in New Orleans in early March. Urban Jonson, senior vice president, information technology and cybersecurity services for Serjon, briefed media on the threats facing fleets with compromised ELDs.

ELDs are essentially communication devices used to record and report truck driver hours of service. Due to certain technical requirements of the regulations, ELDs require the ability to “write” messages to the truck’s network to obtain information, such as engine hours. The ELD also requires internet access to report the HOS information.

This creates a truck network-to internet communication bridge that introduces significant cybersecurity concerns.

We sat down with Jonson to learn more about this new cybersecurity threat to North American fleets and what they can do to protect themselves. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity)

HDT: Many fleets aren’t aware that ELDs can be hacked. Talk a little about how hackers can gain access to an ELD.

Jonson: Different ELD vendors use different designs to deliver the functionality required by the ELD mandate. A common design is a hardware device that connects to the vehicle’s on-board diagnostics (OBD) port and then uses a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connection to a cellular device, such as a tablet or cellphone, to collect the ELD information and report it.

That ELD information can be attacked by hackers locally (close to the truck) or remotely across the internet.

In a recent paper presented at VehicleSec’241, the researchers were able to compromise an ELD device locally by simply connecting to the ELD Wi-Fi connection point, which had a predictable SSID [network name] and a weak default password. This allowed the researchers to send arbitrary CAN messages to the vehicle and even modify the firmware of the ELD itself.

There have also been reports of remote compromise of these types of vehicle OBD-connected devices going back to 2015, when a researcher could compromise Progressive Insurance OBD devices over the internet because the devices’ cellular modems were discoverable and openly accessible on the internet and had a weak default password.

HDT: What are these hackers looking for?

Jonson: The most likely ELD attack scenarios do not involve obtaining sensitive information from the ELD or the trucking company, but rather disabling or impacting the vehicle’s ability to function.

If an attacker can write arbitrary controller area network (CAN) messages to the vehicle’s CAN bus network, they can impact the vehicle’s functionality in many different ways. For example, if you can write messages to the CAN bus, you can send bogus sensor messages that would make the vehicle derate and go into limp mode, effectively disabling the vehicle.

The threat actor’s motivation could be money, in which case they could hold the company’s vehicles for ransom — not unlike what we have seen with traditional backend systems in the trucking industry.

It could also be a nation-state threat actor whose motivation is to negatively impact the U.S. transportation systems at a time of their choosing. If you disable enough trucks in tunnels or on bridges, interstates, and shipping ports and facilities, it would effectively snarl the entire transportation ecosystem.

In either case, the threat actors would be looking to compromise vehicle function “at scale,” which would require a systematic attack against an entire company or across multiple companies by attacking an ELD provider’s back-end infrastructure.

HDT: Can hacking into an ELD lead to a more widespread hacking issues? Can hackers gain access to other IT systems in a fleet?

Jonson: Getting access to a single ELD can compromise other systems, but usually at the ELD provider level and not the fleet itself. Most telematics system providers connect the ELD device to their backend system(s) for data collection, and then they integrate with the fleets through portals or direct system integrations.

HDT: Can hackers gain access to employees’ personal information?

Jonson: If the threat actor’s motives involve getting employee or customer data, they will attack the backend systems of the fleet rather than trying to get at the ELD devices.

Attacking regular backend systems requires much less effort and expertise. Estes Express was hit with ransomware in October 2023 and lost personal identifiable information due to the breach. This was done by compromising their backend systems and not via their operational technology, such as ELD or TSP devices.

Ransomware attacks against the backend systems of fleets are still the biggest threat to fleets and not attacks against the vehicles themselves. But that is just a matter of time and will happen eventually.

HDT: What is a worst case scenario for a fleet whose vehicles have been hacked via ELDs?

Jonson: The worst-case economic scenario is that fleets cannot use their vehicles to conduct business. Uptime in transportation is a major concern.

As our vehicles become more connected and more automated, with technologies such as lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking, the stakes for safety-critical applications increase dramatically.

A compromised ELD device on such an advanced vehicle with the ability to send arbitrary CAN messages could result in tragic consequences, including the potential loss of life.

HDT: What are some telltale early signs that a system has been hacked?

Jonson: There are few real-world public examples of threat actors attacking fleets, so it is hard to say what the early indicators would look like.

A compromised device could result in unexpected and unrelated diagnostic trouble codes (DTCs) being reported. Or there could be no symptoms at all until the vehicle cannot function and the owner receives a ransomware demand.

Trying to determine the difference between a cyberattack and diagnosing and troubleshooting normal vehicle issues is very hard to do.

HDT: What should drivers do if they suspect an ELD has been hacked?

Jonson: If a vehicle driver suspects that their ELD device or vehicle has been hacked due to erratic vehicle performance or activity, they should immediately contact their fleet maintenance professionals for further guidance. Safety should always be the first priority.

Jonson: First and foremost, evaluate the cybersecurity posture of the ELD devices in your fleet.

Not all devices are created equal. Make sure you ask your provider for information about their cybersecurity practices.

For additional information on criteria to use to evaluate a TSP/ELD provider, you can consult Cybersecurity Best Practices for Integration/Retrofit of Telematics and Aftermarket Electronic Systems into Heavy Vehicles by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and Cybersecurity Requirements for Telematics Systems by National Motor Freight Traffic Association.

All technologies and systems have the potential to fail, either due to outside influence, such as hackers, or on their own. I know of instances where fleets have lost access to their TSP/ELD systems due to cloud computing outages that were the result of provider misconfigurations. It was nothing malicious per se, but it still caused a major failure.

The best way to combat ransomware and ELD hackers is to make your business systems and vehicles as resilient as possible. Analyze your business and vehicles, identify critical systems that need to be protected, do your best to protect them, and develop contingency plans for what to do if those systems fail. I know of a motor freight carrier that got hit with backend ransomware but could continue operations due to a good backup plan.

What it takes to advocate for legal abuse reform

Pamella De Leon

The surge of nuclear verdicts – post-crash jury awards exceeding over $10 million – against trucking companies have sent shockwaves through the industry.

Despite a decrease in fatal crashes, verdicts are increasing, according to a 2023 study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Legal Reform. Looking at 154 trucking litigation verdicts and settlements from June 2020 to April 2023, the statistical mean plaintiffs’ award was $27.5 million and a statistical mean award of $759,875 for settlements.

Addressing lawsuit abuse is a “top tier issue” for the American Trucking Association, said David Bauer, vice president of state and tax policy. This involves ATA and its Federation partners at the state level pressing for reforms at the state level.

Besides trying to rein in huge lawsuits and nuclear verdicts, Bauer noted that the goal of tort reform is to restore balance and fairness to the judicial process for the trucking industry, pointing out how the judicial environment has become “unbelievably skewed” against the industry.

Get YOUR Roadcheck inspection questions answered in this Q&A session — sponsored by Bestpass — with CVSA Roadside Inspection Specialist Jeremy Disbrow on May 1, 2024, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Insurance costs are also a major concern, with Bauer noting an increasing propensity of insurance carriers to completely leave states due to liability concerns is alarming.

“Our efforts are really this industry standing up and saying, ‘enough is enough’ to the plaintiffs’ bar, which has perverted justice and turned civil litigation into a profit center to line their pockets,” said Bauer. “The costs are borne by everyone, not just trucking companies, but consumers in the form of higher insurance rates and higher prices for everyday goods.”

The nitty gritty

As the surge in nuclear jury verdicts intensifies, various states have successfully pushed through reforms.

During this 2024 state legislative session, in Indiana, the “seatbelt gag rule,” which prevented jurors presiding over an auto accident lawsuit from knowing whether the injured party was wearing one and thereby led to unfair jury verdicts, was ended.

Persistence was an important factor, along with requiring “constant, unrelenting information sharing with legislative leaders,” and emphasizing how businesses and individuals were being impacted, said Indiana Motor Truck Association President Gary Langston.

“It took three legislative sessions to get the seat belt admissibility language passed,” he said. The first two attempts, though not successful, established a stronger base to start the next effort for the third session. Langston said they were also able to develop a coalition of stakeholders who were impacted by lawsuit abuse.

“Each attempt gave us additional opportunities to better inform the legislators about how their constituents are consumers being impacted by exorbitant lawsuit amounts being imposed on the transportation industry,” said Langston.

Last year, Iowa passed legislation to put a $5 million cap on noneconomic damages.

Having a member in every legislative district was the most powerful grassroots tool, said Iowa Motor Truck Association President and CEO Brenda Neville. She also credited the association’s volunteer leaders and members in educating lawmakers in their three years effort.

She commended their legislative leaders for their support who were “consistent” and “unwavering.” She added, “The trial bar is a very formidable opponent and many state legislatures are filled with trial lawyer legislators from both sides of the aisle, which make these lawsuit abuse initiatives very difficult and challenging. So, you really do need to have the right political landscape.”

Florida enacted last March a landmark legislation to protect consumers and businesses from trial lawyer tactics. Some of the reforms include increasing transparency in civil proceedings by reducing the ability of plaintiffs’ attorneys to introduce fictitious and inflated medical bills at trial.

“Phantom damages are but one of the tactics used by the plaintiffs’ bar to create a pervasive climate of lawsuit abuse that has sent insurance rates soaring to unsustainable levels,” Bauer said.

The tort reforms in Florida were almost 20 years in the making, said Alix Miller, president and CEO of Florida Trucking Association. Miller credited strong leadership and support at the legislative and executive level, preparedness and communication with the business level community, and long-term education.

“Before the pandemic, the supply chain crisis and even hurricanes in Florida, the public didn’t really understand the essential nature of the trucking industry,” said Miller. The association took the opportunity to launch a strategic communication plan so Floridians (elected officials and general public) would understand the crucial role of the trucking industry, and how, when it financially suffers, consumers suffer as well.

“If trucking companies are being targeted by billboard attorneys, via nuclear verdicts and the perpetual cycle of settlement mills in Florida,” Miller said, “that cost – or even worse, supply chain delays for the more important of commodities – trickles down to everyone in the state.”

To be successful, Miller said, they had to find a way to change the paradigm on how tort reform has pitted trial lawyers against insurance companies.

“This would not be a fight pitting wealthy trial lawyers, insurance companies with household names, and billion-dollar corporations,” she said. “It needed to be a fight about people, families and small business. The fight needed to defend the backbone of the American economy, not manage a food fight among the Goliaths of wealth and power.”

Miller said that the FTA engaged with not just the trucking industry, but also small business owners to hear the impact and rising cost of lawsuit abuse. “It was our members who testified in front of legislators and legislative committees to share their stories. And in the end, it was our members who joined the Governor to sign the most comprehensive tort reform package in the country into law,” she said.

Other states such as West Virginia, Georgia, Montana, Texas, and Louisiana have also enacted tort reform to mitigate the escalation of litigation costs.

Moving the needle

There’s still a lot of work to do. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers earlier this month vetoed a bill to put a $1 million cap on awards for noneconomic damages from commercial motor vehicle settlements.

As a bill aimed to protect small businesses, since most members are small carriers and family businesses, Neal Kedzie, president at Wisconsin Motor Carriers Association, expressed his disappointment, adding he plans to reconvene with coalition business partners over the next few months to strategize.

Kedzie said a formidable obstacle to overcome are the Wisconsin trial attorneys heavily advertising against the trucking industry and promoting lawsuits against carriers on media outlets.

“Though I’m disappointed that we didn’t have our tort reform passed, I’m encouraged that we had it pass both houses of the state legislature and make its way to the governor’s desk on our first attempt,” said Kedzie. “I believe that in time, we will be successful.”

As other states push for reform measures, Langston said it’s important to get legislators other than just those who serve on the judiciary committees involved in understanding the reptile theory tactics that trial lawyers use to divert a jury’s attention from the facts of the trial.

“The story to focus on is the impact of lawsuit abuse to the small business,” said Miller. “98% of trucking companies operate with 20 trucks or less. One fender bender can put an entire company out of business. Spend the time to humanize the industry.”

Bauer said ATA will work with any stakeholder that wants to enact reform. “In any effort to take unfair advantages from plaintiff’s attorneys, you are going to get their best efforts to distort our arguments and keep their gravy train going,” he said.

Bauer pointed out that even rational arguments can get twisted to misleading messaging. For example, in over half the states, it is still not permissible to introduce evidence that a plaintiff was not wearing their seatbelt at the time of an accident.

“These are falsifications we are fighting against as we continue our lawsuit abuse campaign,” he said. “We are not close to completion, in fact, we’re just getting started.”

ELD Mandate Comparison: Canada and the U.S.

Learn about the notable differences between the Canadian and US mandate rules.

Mark Samber

Canada’s electronic logging device (ELD) mandate was adopted on June 12, 2019, and is effective for all federally-regulated carriers.

The Canadian mandate closely follows the U.S. rules and operability requirements, which was a very intentional move by Transport Canada. Regulators and industry knew that Canada’s mandate must closely follow the U.S. rules to avoid disrupting cross-border transportation and the movement of goods across the border.

While the ELD operability requirements are very similar, there are a few notable differences between each country’s regulations. A few of the more prominent differences between the two countries are described below.

ELD Mandate Comparison – Canada vs. United States

  Canada United States
Implementation Implementation June 2021, no grandfathering provisions Mandate adopted Dec. 2015; mandate effective Dec. 2017; grandfathering for carriers using AOBRDs ended Dec. 2019
Certification ELD 3rd party certification ELD provider self-certification
Exemptions Limited exemptions for: drivers operating under a permit or statutory exemption; drivers operating a rental CMV for 30 days or less; drivers operating CMVs manufactured before the year 2000 Drivers operating a rental CMV for 8 days or less; pre-2000 exemption is the same as Canada; also, multiple industry/situational exemptions
Notifications Compliance with the limits must be tracked, and the driver must be warned 30 minutes before reaching a limit U.S. devices must only record; no warning required
Malfunctions 14 days to replace or, if the trip is longer than 14 days, upon return to the terminal; carrier must keep records of malfunctions Up to 8 days allowed, no recordkeeping requirement
Roadside Inspection Enforcement Display or print the record of duty status; email records upon request by enforcement.
Bluetooth/USB transfer is an option, not mandatory
Display or printout or Bluetooth/USB/web/email is required (must transfer using one of 4 methods.)
Email direct to officer is not an option.
North of 60N Device must have the ability to change when crossing 60N (to Yukon and Northwest Territories) Not applicable

How to Get More Out of Commercial Driver Vehicle Inspections

Deborah Lockridge


When Tom Bray was in charge of safety at a motor carrier, a frustration was seeing drivers leave the yard with an easily correctable problem that could result in a violation or worse — but should have been found in a driver vehicle inspection and fixed.

“I’d watch a truck roll out the driveway, and I’d see his left turn signal on the side of the tractor and on the side of the trailer,” he says. “But it wasn’t working on the back of the trailer. You’re pulling out of our facility with 30 mechanics dying to work on your vehicle, and you’re leaving with a turn signal that doesn’t work? Come on!”

Bray is a business advisor with J.J. Keller, working with fleets on safety and compliance. His experience ranges from being a truck driver to a trainer to a safety director, so he knows a thing or two about pre-trip and post-trip driver inspections.

So does Fred Fakkema, who was a commercial motor vehicle inspector for years and is now vice president of safety and compliance for Zonar, which got its start developing some of the first electronically verified inspections.

Fakkema points out that the top violation during roadside inspections is “inoperable required lamp” — an easy thing to find during a proper pre-trip inspection. Turn signals, tires, windshield wipers, are all common things that driver inspections should catch.

And when an enforcement officer spots low-hanging fruit like that, they’re going to start digging for more violations, Fakkema says.

“Because you got that missing light, now you’re getting dinged for your hours of service,” he says.

Similarly, one of the biggest issues that happen when trucks leave the yard are tire-related, says Michael Dominguez, VP of business operations, procurement and fleet management for Transervice Logistics, a provider of dedicated contract carriage.

Tire problems could lead to violations during roadside inspections or to a blow-out on the road. The latter, especially in a steer tire, could have serious repercussions.

And all this could have been prevented by making sure the tire pressure was right before departure.

“Doing the proper pre-trip not only gets you in compliance, but it increases the safety of your fleet as well,” Fakkema says. “You’d think that with the cost of maintenance today, the cost of fuel today, that you’d want to reduce those costs by actually doing a proper pre- and post-trip.”

Tire-related problems are a common reason for roadside inspection violations that often could have been found during a pre-trip inspection.


Stop Drivers from ‘Pencil-Whipping’ Inspections

Every driver is trained when they’re getting their commercial driver’s license to do pre-trip and post-trip inspections. It’s part of the test they must pass to get a license.

“But most sit in the cab and check the box,” Fakkema says. “It used to be called pencil-whipping because they used paper forms. Now there’s a lot of electronics, but it’s still just checking the box and not getting butts out of the seat and actually walk around the truck.”

Drivers want to drive. That’s what they get paid for, that’s why they got into this business. They don’t want to spend a lot of time doing inspections or filling out paperwork.

Barrett Young, chief marketing officer for Netradyne, says the conversation around vehicle inspections and driver vehicle inspection reports is similar to the adoption of dashcams — drivers just don’t want to do it.

“I don’t want to do it. So don’t make me do it. And I don’t see the importance of it,” he says of the mindset of many drivers. “Only do they really start to experience the gravitas or the importance of it is when something goes wrong.”

If Your Fleet Doesn’t Priorize Driver Inspections, Drivers Won’t Either

If the company and its leadership don’t put a priority on pre- and post-trip inspections, drivers won’t, either.

“Whether I go out to a location or somebody above or below me goes out to a location, we’re looking to see if the hoods are popped and the fluids are being checked and the lights are going around and you hear the air brake checks going on,” says Transervice’s Dominguez. “If you don’t set that expectation that this has to get done,” it won’t.

Companies that have good maintenance scores in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s CSA safety scoring program, he says, “put a big emphasis on, ‘We’re not leaving the yard unless we’ve done the proper pre-trip inspection.”‘

At Transervice, often someone from the shop is out in the yard ready to help drivers with pre-trip inspections and fast repairs, Dominguez says.

“If you give the concept of driver vehicle inspections lip service, that’s going to be [drivers’] attitude toward them. If they think you don’t take it seriously, they’re not going to take it seriously.”

“The driver is trying to get out on the road,” he says. “If there’s a guy out there in the parking lot with a cart and oil and bulbs and asking, ‘Hey, do you need something,’ it goes a long way toward making sure that the driver can do his pre-trip and get out of the yard in the most efficient amount of time. So having that collaboration goes a long way.”

Keller’s Bray says, “If you give the concept of driver vehicle inspections lip service, that’s going to be their attitude toward them. If they think you don’t take it seriously, they’re not going to take it seriously.”

He says setting those expectations starts with driver training.

“If you lay down that expectation initially, that goes a long way towards getting the drivers to start doing it,” Bray says.

Zonar’s Fakkema also speaks to the importance of company culture, saying pre-trip inspections can help drivers have a safety mindset before they leave the yard.

“You know, in sports, we stretch and we get ready to do what we do, and get in that mindset to play that day’s game,” he says. “If you’re doing a good pre-trip and you’re thinking about how you’re going to get back home safely, that pre-trip really gets you in that mindset.”

Bending over or crouching down to take a look under the vehicle during a driver inspection can catch problems not otherwise visible.


Give Drivers the Big Picture on Why Inspections Matter

Steve Keppler, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, worked as an investigator and inspector for the Office of Motor Carriers (the FMCSA’s predecessor) and spent 15 years at the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. Today he works with fleets on safety and compliance issues.

Fleets he’s worked with that have been successful in getting drivers to do proper inspections spend some time showing drivers real-world scenarios about what can happen when there’s a breakdown or out-of-service violation that could have been prevented with a driver inspection. That may include the cost of on-the-road maintenance, what violations do to fleet CSA scores, what the cost was of not being able to deliver a load on time, the possibility that the fleet could lose the customer.

“And by the way, you didn’t get home in time,” Keppler says. “You’re waiting out on the road to get a truck fixed and you didn’t get home in time and you missed your son’s or daughter’s game.

“Put it in real-world terms, so that it’s not just a driver issue. It’s a fleet issue.”

Dominguez has found it effective to bring in a commercial motor vehicle enforcement official to walk drivers through a true inspection training, including teaching them about how violations affect the drivers’ own CSA scores.

“Somebody internally could be having that conversation [with drivers] twice a year, and then somebody from DOT comes in and has that conversation, and it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s new news to me.’”

Invest in Driver Training for Better Pre-trip Inspections

Commercial drivers must know how to do a vehicle inspection in order to pass the test for their commercial drivers’ license. But don’t assume that means they’re doing it well or efficiently.

“That’s one of the issues that comes into play, especially with new drivers,” says Keller’s Bray. “For them to do a full-blown tractor-trailer inspection after coming out of most typical training programs, that’s a half an hour to 45 minutes. They’re just not very efficient at doing it.

“Then the push is, ‘This is costing me too much, so I’ll start cutting out parts of the inspection.’ Next thing you know, they’re not doing the inspection.”

The snow in Wisconsin gives Bray an interesting technique to illustrate how pre-trips aren’t done efficiently.

With fresh snow on the ground, he’ll ask a trainee to do a pre-trip inspection. “I kind of stand back and I watch how many times they went around the vehicle,” he says.

While drivers do need to make a couple of trips to check certain things such as brake lights, he says, “I see new drivers and even experienced drivers take eight or 10 laps around the truck. That’s when you step in as a trainer and say, ‘Look at all your footprints around the truck. That’s a lot of wasted motion, a lot of wasted time. Let’s get a pattern set up so that you’re not walking past things that you need to be checking.”

“The training you gave them hopefully gives them enough knowledge and skill that they can quickly and efficiently do the inspection and find the issues that you want them finding if they’re present on the vehicle,” Bray says. “If they’re not getting it done quickly, they’re just going to give it up.”

Bray also points out that while the FMCSA doesn’t expect drivers to get on a creeper and go underneath the vehicle, a driver can pick up on problems that aren’t as obvious by bending or crouching down and looking under the vehicle.

“There’s times where the driver, if they would have looked under, they’d have seen that brake chamber that broke loose from its mount or that airline hanging down lower than it should.”

Help Truck Drivers Make Vehicle Inspections More Efficient

Dominguez says whether you’re using old-school paper inspection checklists or an electronic inspection checklist on a phone or tablet, those forms should be laid out in the most efficient process for drivers to get it done.

“That’s a practice that we use even in our PMs and also use it in our DVIR,” he says, “is to try to have it in a flow that makes the most sense, so they can easily go around that truck and check everything as they hit the four corners.”

Bray and Dominguez both point out that whenever a driver gets a different truck, it may have different features that need to be checked, or that are in different places than he or she is used to.

“Even if you’ve hired an experienced driver from another company, your equipment’s unique,” Bray says. And not every vehicle within a fleet is identical, either. There are subtle changes from one model year to another, even in the same model, he adds, and fleets with mixed makes are going to have even more differences.

The Role of Maintenance in Truck Driver Vehicle Inspections

If there’s not a good relationship between drivers and the shop, if drivers don’t feel their inspection reports are being addressed, they have less incentive to do proper inspections.

“It’s never a good situation if a company has pillars between the maintenance shop and the drivers,” says Dominguez. “If there’s animosity in trying to work together, even more reason that the driver is not going to put a lot of emphasis on it.”

Dominguez says it’s vital that driver inspections be an extension of the overall preventive maintenance program.

“One of the things that works really well is that when we do have a violation and even breakdowns, we do an analysis. Could it have been prevented, one, from the last PM, and two, from the DVIR.

“And I say it in that fashion, because the DVIR needs to be an extension of the PM process.”

A truck may have a preventive maintenance inspection every three months or every six months, but in between, “You rely on the driver on a daily basis telling you, ‘I’ve got a light out, I’ve got a mudflap that’s going, I hear this noise, I see something that seems a little bit off.’ You’re looking for all those minor things that can happen in between PMs to be identified by that pre-trip DVIR or post-trip DVIR.”

Transervice often has maintenance personnel in the yard to help drivers with pre-trip inspections.


Keppler also advises fleets not to overlook how technicians are doing their PM inspections.

“Maintenance folks like to fix stuff,” he says, and may focus on fixing problems without doing a real inspection. That’s why it’s critical to have a uniform procedure for technician inspections, he says.

“That inspection should be done the same way every time, regardless of what the driver tells you. If you find stuff, don’t stop and fix it. Note it, do the inspection the way you’re supposed to do, document everything, and then you can worry about how you’re going to get it fixed.”

Getting the Problem Fixed After the Inspection

Once a driver has reported a safety-related defect, it’s sometimes not fixed promptly. And that’s a problem, says Keller’s Bray.

“You can’t have the driver filling out paper DVIRs or even doing electronic ones and telling you six days in a row that he has a bad tire, and you’re not doing anything about it. That causes all kinds of problems during an audit.

“Some companies still believe that the driver just fills them out and when he gets back to the terminal in a week, he turns them all in. No, that’s not at all how that works,” Bray adds.

“In a post-crash environment, if that tire failure leads to loss of control, there’s going to be a lot of people saying, what are you doing?”

One of the reasons drivers say they don’t pay more attention to their vehicle inspections and DVIRs is that they keep reporting the same problem that doesn’t get fixed.

Regulations don’t require a defect found during a driver inspection to be fixed right away if it’s not critical to the safe operation of the vehicle. If the driver reports a problem that isn’t going to be fixed right away, Keppler says, “they need to tell the driver that, ‘We’re going to get it fixed, just not right now.’

“I look at lots of DVRs where I see the same thing appearing over and over,” he says. “A lot of times, if it’s the same driver, as days go on, their writing will get larger, they’ll put exclamation points on the DVIR, because they’re upset that people aren’t paying attention to it.

“That’s on management, to have that feedback loop to the driver,” he says.

Similarly, Keppler says, it’s important to make sure technicians and drivers complete the loop following a repair.

“The driver that gets in the vehicle the next time needs to review that the issues were fixed, and they need to see a mechanic certification that they were fixed. A lot of times you don’t see that mechanic certification on there. The driver should be asking questions about that — and they shouldn’t be penalized for that, they should be encouraged to do that.”

Bray recalls a driver with a fleet he was working at “who was extremely agitated, because his seat squeaked.”

He told the driver that it would be fixed when the truck came in for service, “but we’re not sending you into a dealership to have your squeak on your seat fixed,” because it’s not a safety violation.

Driver Inspections Should be Part of a Holistic Maintenance Approach

Keppler says driver pre-trips and post-trips and DVIRs should be part of a more holistic approach.

“I look at vehicle inspections as a three-legged stool,” he says:

  1. Pre- and post-trip inspections by the driver.
  2. Periodic inspections, primarily done by the maintenance department, including the mandatory annual inspection
  3. Roadside inspections done by commercial motor vehicle enforcement officials.

“If you’ve got a good systematic maintenance program in place, all legs of the stool are strong,” he says. “But if you’ve got one of those areas that’s failing, the stool falls over. And so they all need to be working in harmony.

“When we go in and audit a carrier, what we’re going to look at is how those three legs of the stool work together,” Keppler says. “So we’re going to look at a roadside inspection. What violations were discovered during that roadside inspection? What day did it happen? We’re going to map that back and take a look at the pre-trips. Was a pre-trip done on that vehicle for that day? Did the driver discover anything that the driver notated as defects?

“It’s never a good situation if a company has pillars between the maintenance shop and the drivers. The DVIR needs to be an extension of the PM process.”

“We’re also going to look at the most recent periodic inspection. What did that inspection uncover, If anything? Was it close to the time that the roadside inspection took place? Was the out-of-service condition something that’s latent, that’s probably been there a while that could have been picked up during a periodic inspection?”

But many fleets, he says, don’t do that kind of analysis.

“When you go in and look their maintenance files, the DVIRs are in one place, the periodic inspections are in one place, and the roadside inspections are in another place. They’re not collated together.

“Most fleets are not taking that approach to their maintenance program from a compliance and safety perspective. They’re taking a Band-Aid approach: ‘Fix it when it happens, and we’ll deal with it the next time something happens.’ And that’s a problem.”

There are various e-DVIRs to help make driver vehicle inspections and filing defect reports easier. This one from Zonar uses RFID tags to prompt the driver to inspection various zones around the truck.


How e-DVIRs Can Help Make Driver Vehicle Inspections Better

Using traditional paper-based driver vehicle inspection systems is time-consuming and subject to inaccuracies (“What did the driver write here?”) and delays. Electronic driver vehicle inspection checklists and driver vehicle inspection reports are available from a number of providers, often accessed through the driver’s electronic logging device or a mobile device.

7 Things to Consider in an E-DVIR System

  1. Does it provide an inspection checklist that works for your vehicle type and compliance needs?
  2. Does it have the ability for a driver to add photos of problems?
  3. What is the flow of information when a driver finds a problem? How automatic is the process for getting maintenance performed? How much visibility does it offer?
  4. What type of device do drivers need? Is it a separate piece of hardware? Integrated into a tablet they may already be using? An app on a driver’s phone?
  5. Are you able to customize to meet your fleet’s specific needs? Based on type of trailer/cargo, or when specs change on trucks?
  6. How easy is it to use?
  7. How does it work with all the other technology your fleet is using?

What is an e-DVIR? As Whip Around explains, e-DVIRs allow drivers to quickly fill out an inspection form from their mobile device, take images and make notes on vehicle faults, and automatically send in the report.

“It’s easy to miss something on a paper report and chalk it up to simple forgetfulness,” the company explains on its website. “With Whip Around you can’t miss something in your pre-trip vehicle inspection because you have to physically check off an item before you can move onto the next one.”

“One of the big benefits of the e-DVIR is that it’s added some level of automation in the sense that it makes it easier,” says Netradyne’s Young. “You go through a very defined checklist that you would on paper. And it’s kind of checking your boxes inside the app or on your phone or whatever device is being used.

“But the really important part is the automation of the maintenance request,” he says. When a driver has discovered a problem, a report automatically goes into the back-end portal for fleet managers. Drivers can even attach a photo of the problem, sometimes video. Some integrate into a fleet’s maintenance management software.

“Before you know it, you’re back in the terminal the next day, and they can get that fixed immediately, where previously that would take weeks sometimes.”

Not only does that mean less frustration and downtime for the driver, but it also has a major benefit for fleets in terms of liability, Young says. When it takes a week or more for a traditional DVIR to get processed and maintenance/repair performed, “That means that vehicle’s on the road for X amount of days or potentially a week or two, before maintenance is actually scheduled or taken care of. And that is a liability issue at its finest.”

Why e-DVIRs Are Especially Useful for Long-Haul Trucking Fleets

J.J. Keller’s Bray says the e-DVIR is especially helpful when you have trucks and drivers that operate far from their home terminal.

Say you’re a fleet in Wisconsin and you have a driver out in Sacramento.

With an e-DVIR, he says, “The driver writes up he’s got a light out, and that immediately shows up in the maintenance person’s inbox. So he says, ‘I got a truck in Sacramento with a light out, let’s get this squared away.’ He gets it squared away, then loads the e-DVIR back up into the system after he signed off on it saying it’s been taken care of. Then the next driver just retrieves it and signs off on it and everything’s taken care of.”

Keppler also points to the benefits of e-DVIRs in making it easier for fleets to connect everything together.

“You can monitor those periodic inspections, you can monitor the roadside inspections, you can monitor their pre-and post-trips, you can monitor the repair work,” he says.

“A lot of fleets even take it to the next level. Once you have the information in an electronic database, you can do all kinds of analysis on it. You can do predictive analytics; you can start getting to the next level of not just being reactive.”

How to Incentivize Your Drivers to Do Vehicle Inspections

When it comes to incentivizing drivers to do inspections, “I think you have to be somewhat creative in this space, because it’s a requirement that they do it every day,” Keppler says, “versus like a roadside inspection, if you get a clean inspection, a lot of fleets offer a monetary benefit there.”

If you’re using an electronic DVIR system, he says, it’s relatively easy to look at drivers’ DVIRs and set up a bonus or recognition system for doing all their DVIRs on time.

“And you can look at gamification, too,” he says, with drivers or terminals competing against each other.

In addition, he suggests that drivers who excel at their inspections be offered the opportunity to serve as trainers to other drivers. “Part of advancement within the company and getting recognized for something that they do very well.”

Electronic driver vehicle inspection reports make it more efficient to report defects and ensure safety-related problems are fixed promptly.


For vehicle inspections, as with other compliance elements, the carrot works better than the stick, says Netradyne’s Young.

“If you’re rewarding those who are doing it the way they should be, then those that are not doing it can see that reward and think, ‘Man, I wish I got qualified to enter to win that vacation my fleet’s offering because I checked all the boxes of things I was supposed to do this month.’

“Then you begin to improve compliance, simply by reinforcing and congratulating those that did it well. Punishing those that constantly don’t do well is just continuing to damage or increase a contentious relationship between the back office and drivers.”