An important part of preventive maintenance is the establishment of strong communication ties between drivers, management and mechanics. An easy way to ensure and document this communication link is through driver inspections, which are required by federal regulations.

Before driving off, a driver must verify that the vehicle is roadworthy and in safe operating condition (Part 396.13 Driver Inspection). He or she must review the last Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) to ensure that any repairs to correct the defects noted on the report have been performed.

Part 396.11 of the federal regulations requires that every driver prepare a written and signed DVIR at the completion of each day’s work for each vehicle operated. The report must identify the vehicle and list any defect or deficiency that would affect the safe operation of the vehicle or result in its mechanical breakdown. The DVIR covers at least the following parts and accessories:

• Service brakes including trailer brake connections

• Parking brake

• Steering mechanism

• Lighting devices and reflectors

• Tires

• Horn

• Windshield wipers

• Rear vision mirrors

• Coupling devices

• Wheels and rims

• Emergency equipment.

It should be noted that the driver of a passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicle subject to this regulation must prepare and submit a report even if no defect or deficiency is discovered by or reported to the driver. However, drivers of all other commercial motor vehicles are not required to prepare or submit a report if no defect or deficiency is discovered by or reported to the driver. Importantly, any defects or deficiencies noted in the DVIR that would be likely to affect the safe operation of the vehicle must be repaired and certified on the original DVIR before the vehicle is operated again.

Thorough pre- and post-trip driver inspections can spot mechanical problems before they lead to roadside breakdowns and catch unsafe conditions before they cause an accident. They save money in delays, lost time, expensive road repairs and fines for violations. Driver inspections can also help minimize out-of-service events during DOT roadside inspections.

Driver Is First Line of Defense

The driver is in the best position to catch mechanical problems. So, in addition to pre- and post-trip inspections, it’s also beneficial for drivers to monitor the condition of equipment components that can affect vehicle safety during a trip. One way to do this is for drivers to inspect vehicles at every fuel stop. This can include, but is not limited to cleaning windshields and mirrors, and checking engine compartments, lights, mirrors, wipers, tires and fluid levels.

A driver should also use his or her senses while driving to help detect early warning signs of trouble. Thumps, squeaks, squeals, rattles, rumbles, and other sounds provide valuable clues about maintenance needs. The sense of smell can detect burning rubber, insulation or hot fluids and can lead to an early diagnosis of trouble. The sense of touch should be used to feel changes in a vehicle’s response. Difficult handling or braking, a rough ride or idling, unusual vibration and poor performance from a vehicle almost always indicate a problem. And the sense of sight can observe warning lights and spot vehicle defects. Also, small stains or an occasional drop of fluid under a vehicle may not mean much, but wet spots deserve immediate attention.

In addition to catching mechanical problems, drivers are essential to reporting them. As such, motor carriers must develop procedures for reporting all vehicle defects that impact safety and/or compliance, and drivers must understand and accept their responsibility for the timely communication of all safety-related issues so that they can be repaired and certified before the vehicle is operated.