No one likes an inspector. Whether it’s one from the federal Department of Transportation, the IRS, or one from your state regulatory agency, they are there to examine the way you do business. You can fear or embrace them. Choose the latter approach and you’ll benefit from some free knowledge and guidance.
Ignorance Not An Excuse
You’ve heard it many times. Simply because you don’t know a law exists doesn’t exempt you from following it. In this business, we are regulated by so many agencies and must adhere to so many laws and policies that it is indeed hard to keep up. Working with your inspector throughout the year by asking questions will help make annual inspections go much smoother. You’ll benefit if your inspector knows you care enough to pick up the phone and ask about compliance matters. Ask for your inspector’s cell phone number if you don’t have it.
Does Calling Raise Red Flags?
No! On the contrary, inspectors encourage two-way communication, says Jason Followill, a motor carrier safety specialist for the California Highway Patrol, who is tasked with visiting various fleet operators in Central California annually. Although certain conditions can warrant more frequent inspections, calling to ask questions is not one of them, he adds.
In fact, open communications and dialogue enable him to learn more about an operation. It also helps him with the annual inspection and to share creative ideas with other carriers, resulting in a safety highway system for everyone.
Followill, a seven-year veteran, says having organized and well documented maintenance records is vital. If you are unsure what documents you need to have in a Driver’s Qualification File (DQF), a simple phone call can clear that up and get you an updated list of what you need. The same can be said for vehicle maintenance records, accident logs, drug testing results and the myriad of other documents Followill examines during a safety audit.
Not the Enemy Perceived
Contrary to what most operators believe, inspectors are not looking for ways to shut you down but ways to make you safer. They try to spot things that “aren’t quite right,” Followill says. If inspectors find violations, they may or may not issue a citation but will always tell you how to comply and give you an opportunity to correct the violation(s). This may require a repeat inspection in two weeks or six months depending upon the issue, he says. In his seven years of inspections, Followill has never shut anyone down.
Flagrant violations such as allowing a suspended driver to continue driving or not having a drug and alcohol program in place will result in a citation being issued by mail, but not necessarily one that ceases operations. Such violations can cause operators to be placed on a more frequent inspection plan until compliance is achieved, but again, guidance is provided.
Make That Call
In the event you don’t know the answer to a question about the operation of a vehicle on the road, call and ask. From something as simple as whether or not a car seat is needed in a limo bus to how long you need to keep drug testing results can be answered easily. It demonstrates that you care enough about adhering to the law that you took the time to ask.