We’ve all heard the big news. As of December 2014, commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers who cross state lines are no longer required to submit a Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR)—IF the driver has neither found or been made aware of any defects or deficiencies. This new rule does not apply to passenger-carrying CMV’s.
In announcing the new rule, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx boldly announced, “professional truck drivers will no longer have to comply with a burdensome daily paperwork requirement. …” However, the new rule has fine print that both drivers and carriers should read closely, and apply to their individual circumstances, before tossing out this long-standing reporting tool.
It has always been, and still is, the responsibility of a CMV driver to report vehicle defects. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) first suggested a formal inspection report in 1939, and the DVIR as we know it has been required since 1952.
On Dec. 18, 2014, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) finalized the new DVIR rule culminating a three-year process of reducing burdens on the motor carrier industry. The December announcement responded to President Obama’s 2011 call for Regulatory Review and Reform initiatives, removing information collection burdens without adversely impacting safety.
Current safety regulations require drivers employed by motor carriers to prepare a written report at the completion of each day’s work, on each vehicle operated, that lists any defect or deficiency discovered by or reported to the driver which would affect the safety of operation of the vehicle or result in its mechanical breakdown. This report must be submitted to the employing motor carrier so that repairs can be made. Regulations now require drivers to file the DVIR at the end of each tour of duty, even if there are no vehicle defects to report. The new rule announced in December 2014eliminates the need to file a no-defect DVIR, except for operations involving passenger-carrying CMVs.
It’s been argued that the no-defect DVIR imposes a substantial time and paperwork burden on the trucking industry, with no discernible safety benefit. The FMCSA estimates that non-passenger-carrying CMV drivers spend approximately 46.7 million hours each year completing no-defect DVIRs, time which could be dedicated to other purposes. The agency also estimates that the monetized value of this time is currently $1.7 billion per year, which is the estimated benefit that would result from the adoption of the rule.
In 2012 the FMCA eliminated the DVIR requirement on most ocean vessels, citing economic loss. But additional concerns were raised regarding the likelihood of DVIRs with actual defects becoming buried in the bureaucracy of no-defect reports, which constitute 96 percent of all DVIRs. With Secretary Foxx’s announcement, such relief now extends to all interstate motor carriers.
Before implementing the rule, the FMCA received comments from other government agencies, including Canada, motor carriers, individual drivers, trucking industry and related associations, and advocacy groups.
THE FINE PRINT
First, the new rule does not remove the inspection requirement. It only removes the inspection report requirement. Drivers remain responsible for inspecting their vehicles for defects and deficiencies. As such, the DVIR form may continue to serve as a valuable checklist to ensure safety for the next driver. Before poo-pooing this difference, consider the new rule’s phasing, “or been made aware of any defects or deficiencies.” Even though a report is no longer required if no defects are found, this new language can potentially hold drivers accountable for defects that could have been found. Also, “been made aware” is a vague term that can cause a driver more harm that good if the new rule is used as an excuse to stop inspecting altogether. Think, “Hey, so-and-so mentioned that tire problem to you, so it was your problem to report.”
Indeed, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) commented that under the new rule “drivers may be less likely to conduct inspections, and less likely to detect and document vehicle problems.” The NTSB maintains that DVIRs are simply a good safety procedure on which the next driver of a vehicle can reasonably rely. In fact, the American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) has stated that many of its members will continue to privately require DVIRs, regardless of the new rule, because they consider DVIRs to be a critical component of preventative maintenance.
First, the FMCSA notes in the Final Rule that pre- and post-trip inspections are still very much required. Second, CMV drivers must still submit a DVIR to report defects or deficiencies that were found or reported to them. Third, motor carriers are not prohibited from continuing to privately require no-defect DVIRs from its drivers, and there’s no limit to what drivers may report as a safety-related defect. The FMCSA continued that the system of “reporting by exception” is similar to aviation and Coast Guard regulations. Finally, the pre- and post-trip inspection lists are still very much alive, along with all the other elements of an inspection, repair, and maintenance program.
The FMCSA strongly emphasizes that, under this rule, “the absence of a DVIR serves the same function as the previous no-defect DVIR, i.e., the driver is not aware of any safety defect. This does not mean that the next driver should not perform a pre-trip inspection – and it certainly does not indicate that the driver may skip a post-trip inspection that would form the basis for a driver-vehicle inspection report required under § 396.11(a).”
Another nuance is that motor carriers operating in Canada will need to comply with Canadian national, Provincial and Territorial requirements that require the previous post-trip DVIR. Drivers will need to prepare and to carry a copy of their previous day’s post-trip DVIR, regardless of whether there are defects to report.
- Drivers must continue to prepare and submit DVIRs on any vehicle for which a defect or deficiency has been observed by or reported to the driver.
- Watch your destination because, like Canada, there is no change in the DVIR rule. In Canada, drivers must continue to maintain the previous post-trip DVIR, and carry a copy of their previous day’s post-trip DVIR, defects or not.
- Motor carriers remain responsible for reviewing DVIRs and taking appropriate action to either fix the problem or document that no repairs were made because the carrier determined that the problem did not relate to the safe operation of the vehicle.
- FMSCA will continue to use SMS to identify carriers with poor maintenance programs.
- Motor carriers may continue to privately require their own drivers to prepare no-defect DVIRs. Those who haven’t may consider integrating an electronic system to improve efficiencies.
- Although the federal rule applies primarily to trucking between states, any U.S. state receiving Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCAAP) grants must comply with the federal rules anyway. So, even if drivers are not leaving their state, they could still very well be governed by this rule.
- As a best practice, drivers may choose to continue using DVIR’s as a useful checklist.
The new DVIR rule, while removing costly administrative burdens, has nuances that may affect drivers and motor carriers in different ways. It is highly recommended to resist the rumors and independently consult with an expert — either FMCSA representative, attorney, or trade association — to determine how the new rule will impact one’s particular circumstances. The new rule can be found at fmcsa.dot.gov.
The author, Satveer Chaudhary, is a 15-year licensed attorney and frequent contributor on trucking issues, including Canada border crossing and other challenges to commercial drivers. He can be contacted at www.sportsmanlawyers.com or (612) 206-3721.
Author: Satveer Chaudhary, is a 15-year licensed attorney and frequent contributor on trucking issues, including Canada border crossing and other challenges to commercial drivers. He can be contacted at www.sportsmanlawyers.com or (612) 206-3721.