Guide to Mobile Inspection Forms for the Trucking Industry

By The GoCanvas Team on November 20, 2021

Trucks are the backbone of the global supply chain. According to the American Trucking Association, about 70 percent of all freight and cargo in the United States moves by truck. Without these vehicles, the U.S. economy would grind to a halt within a week. 

However, keeping that workforce moving comes with significant risks. Five million truck drivers share the roads with 250 million motorists — but even though large trucks only represent 2 percent of drivers, they’re involved in 11 percent of all road fatalities.

Passing inspections and complying with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations is key to keeping drivers and motorists safe — and trucks moving and generating revenue.

But that’s often a challenge in and of itself. To pass inspections and meet regulations, carriers and drivers are required to keep a long list of records related to their operations. If, during an inspection or investigation, they can’t produce accurate, up-to-date documentation, carriers and drivers may face fines or have their vehicles taken out of service.  

Using mobile forms can help you maintain and monitor vehicles, repairs, and drivers, and can make it easier for employees to conduct frequent, regular inspections. In this article, we will cover how the information you collect can help you:

  • Keep your Safety Measurement System percentile low
  • Pass roadside inspections and keep trucks generating revenue
  • Understand and manage CSA interventions 


What Carrier Documentation is Required?

Carriers must maintain records including, but not limited to:

  • Accident registers
  • Hazardous materials shipping papers/logs
  • Vehicle maintenance history
  • Annual lists of driver violations
  • Driver’s medical examiner certificates
  • Driver safety performance evaluation certificates
  • Vehicle identifying information: DOT registration, vehicle make, serial number and tire sizes
  • Vehicle inspections: schedule, type and date
  • Pre- and post-trip inspection reports  


How Does Driver Safety Impact Carriers? 

Drivers themselves are not rated, but their inspections, accidents, and violations impact the carriers’ safety measurements.  The data from inspections while a driver works for you remains part of your safety record for two years. Carriers do not inherit any of a new hire’s past violations — only violations received while driving under your authority. 


Why Use an App to Manage Critical Data? 

Pre- and post-trip inspection forms, regular maintenance inspections, and even regular tire inspections are all part of keeping your trucks moving. Logging all of this data onto paper forms means lost paperwork, manually re-entering data, and then storing all of those forms in one of many file cabinets. 

With mobile forms, data entry is more accurate because there is no duplicated data entry, form fields can be required so that nothing gets skipped, and that data is all stored in the cloud, and accessible to you and your drivers anytime and anywhere. And while paper forms get lost or can be destroyed in an accident, data securely archived in the cloud is easily accessed in the case of an accident or legal suit. 

Getting your team to complete regular inspections is key to keeping your vehicles moving. 

Here are some examples of the types of mobile form inspections:

  • Pre-trip inspections. Seven of the top ten CSA violations could be prevented with a thorough pre-trip inspection.
  • Maintenance inspections. Average downtime can cost $100 per hour, so a preventive maintenance system can save money in the long run, help avoid violations, and keep drivers safe.
  • Hazardous materials inspections. A serious violation of hazardous materials transport regulations can cost you more than $77,000.


1. Why Compliance, Safety, and Accountability Matter

Keeping Your Vehicles in Check

All vehicles that meet the description of a motor carrier are bound by FMCSA’s regulations, including Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA), FMCSA’s data-driven safety compliance and enforcement program. CSA is designed to improve safety and prevent commercial motor vehicle (CMV) crashes, injuries, and fatalities. The core element of CSA — the Safety Measurement System (SMS) — measures carriers’ safety performance. Poor safety and compliance can prompt two other elements of the program: interventions and Safety Fitness Determination.


What You Need to Know About CSA’s Ranking Systems 


Identifying Carriers for Interventions 

The FMCSA uses historical data, such as number of crashes or compliance violations, to identify carriers for interventions. Through interventions — which could range from warning letters to investigations — inspectors work with the carriers address those issues. They then use a rating system to designate the safety of motor carriers and remove those unfit to operate on public roads.

Safety Measurement System Percentiles

CSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS) assigns carriers a Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) percentile in seven categories. Carriers are grouped by the number of safety incidents (e.g., crashes or violations) they’ve had in each category, then assigned a percentile. The higher the percentile, the worse the performance. This percentile does not affect the carrier’s safety ranking; it simply prioritizes them for interventions.

Safety Rankings 

Safety rankings may be assigned after an on-site investigation. Carriers can be assigned the ranking satisfactory, conditional, or unsatisfactory. A carrier ranked as unsatisfactory is prohibited from operating a CMV in interstate commerce. 

The Safety Measurement System (SMS) assigns a BASIC percentile in seven categories: 

  • Unsafe driving
  • Crash indicator
  • Hours-of-service compliance
  • Vehicle maintenance
  • Controlled substances/alcohol compliance
  • Hazardous materials compliance
  • Driver fitness


SMS Prioritization & Public Reporting

Your company’s safety data is publicly available online in FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS). FMCSA updates the SMS once a month with data from roadside inspections, crash reports from the last two years, and investigation results. Some of what the SMS considers includes:

  • Number of safety violations and inspections
  • Number of trucks/buses a carrier operates and number of vehicle miles traveled
  • Severity of safety violations


How Do You Maintain Your Records?

To comply with the FMCSA’s CSA and SMS programs, and keep vehicles moving and companies generating revenue, it’s important for company owners and managers to evaluate the quality of their records and record-keeping systems. Mobile inspections help your crew stay up to date on maintenance, compliance, and keep trucks on the roads instead of out of service. 

Using a mobile app to enter, digitally record, and store data electronically eliminates vulnerabilities common to paper records and expedites the record-keeping process. 


2. Minimizing Roadside Inspection Downtime and Avoiding Fines

FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program is designed to keep the roads safe. 

Part of keeping your company’s CSA ranking as low as possible is making sure that all of your vehicles pass roadside inspections with flying colors.  


How Do You Make Sure Your Drivers and Vehicles Pass Inspection?


Make the pre-trip inspection process quick and painless for your drivers. 

Use mobile apps to check, double check, and document all the basics like lights, mirrors, horns, etc. Remember that passing inspection is specific to the category of what is being transported. Instruct your drivers to pay special attention to their vehicle’s brakes, tires, and cargo security (as these are some of the leading causes of large truck crashes), and use a mobile app to document specific areas (including taking photos) pre-trip. 

Make documents easy to inspect.

Crumpled and incomplete documentation that a driver digs out of a messy glove compartment don’t leave a good impression on an inspector. A mobile inspection form gives your drivers access to inspection documents at their fingertips. If an inspector knows the paperwork is organized, he or she will have a better initial impression of your truck overall.


This may seem like common sense, but it’s not always common. The more cooperation the officer receives, the smoother things go. An officer doesn’t have to go through with a full inspection just because he or she pulls a driver over, but does have the right to cite the driver, the company, or both, so attitude pays. 


How can mobile inspection checklists make your company more efficient (and successful) when it comes to roadside inspections?  

  • Much faster to complete than traditional paper forms
  • Cloud-based forms are instantly accessible for the inspector, anywhere, anytime 
  • Forms can be created to require drivers to fill in all sections so nothing gets skipped  
  • Fields can be pre-populated with company data for efficiency
  • GPS tracks and confirms where the inspection took place
  • Date and timestamp features keep drivers honest and prevent any backdating 
  • Image captures at point of inspection may be later used to substantiate compliance in the event of a crash or accident


What Does Non-Compliance Cost?

  • Improper or lack of recordkeeping violations can soar up to $14,502 per violation
  • Operating in violation of an out-of-service order carries a fine of $22,587
  • Violation of hazmat material regulations generates fines of no less than $463 but up to $77,114 per violation


Beyond the Fine

Non-compliance hits your bottom line beyond just the fine. Your loss of revenue will vary, but you can estimate it using the following equation:

Travel Speed x Revenue Per Hour x Downtime for Non-Compliance = Total Revenue Lost

So, for example, if your truck travels 50 miles in an hour, and your revenue is $1.75 per hour, you will lose $350 if your truck sits for only four hours. And that doesn’t include repairs on the spot, which are more expensive than if planned in advance. But as violations, roadside inspection violations, and fines are logged, they are added to the FMCSA’s Safety Measurement System (SMS).

As your ranking climbs within the SMS system, it is more likely that you will be targeted for intervention by FMCSA, which can affect your insurance and contract rates, and ultimately, your ability to attract new customers.

Worried that roadside inspections will take your vehicles out of service? Here are three of the most critical areas for drivers to be aware of to pass an inspection:

  • Completing a full pre-trip inspection. Besides the basic vehicle inspection, drivers should check any load securement devices if the load falls into any special categories. 
  • Knowing the working load limit. The limit requires that drivers use enough weight-rated tie downs to equal at least half the weight of the load. If they are under the limit, they will be out of service (OOS) until they correct the problem. 
  • Using the 10-foot rule. The general rule is that you need at least one tie down for every 10 feet of what the driver is hauling. The tie downs cannot be more than 10 feet apart. Inspectors will measure. Drivers should carry extra tie downs just in case. 


3. Understanding and Managing CSA Interventions 

FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program uses the Safety Measurement System (SMS) to identify carriers that aren’t complying with safety regulations. When carriers earn high enough rankings, CSA uses intervention tools to step in and assist those owners and drivers — or take more serious action if carriers still fail to improve. 

Interventions fall into three categories:

Early Contact 

These initial actions include warning letters, which notify carriers of their performance issues, and targeted roadside inspections to look further into a carrier’s specific safety concerns. 


Safety inspectors (SIs) conduct investigations on site or off site to identify and address safety compliance issues and help carriers identify ways to improve. 


Following an investigation, CSA may issue a follow-up action, which could include a cooperative safety plan, a notice of violation or claim, or an operation out of service order (OOSO), which instructs the carrier to immediately cease trucking operations.  


What Triggers an Intervention?

Carriers are selected for interventions based on the following:

  • Number of BASIC percentiles above a certain threshold 
  • A critical or acute violation in the last 12 months 
  • Commodity hauled (e.g., passengers or hazardous materials)
  • Intervention history 
  • Time since last intervention
  • Complaint or fatal crash 


Types of Investigations 

On-Site Investigations  

SIs conduct on-site investigations at the carrier’s place of business, where they can interview employees, perform vehicle inspections, and ask carriers to produce documentation to prove compliance. Using mobile forms, you can produce any requested data on demand, on any device. Relying on paper forms, you’ll likely have to spend time before the inspection planning, collecting information, and making copies.

During an on-site investigation, SIs may choose to conduct vehicle inspections to make sure your fleet meets safety performance and compliance regulations. To assess the extent of any issues, SIs may request documentation including roadside inspection reports, vehicle maintenance files, annual vehicle inspection reports, equipment repair receipts, and accident reports.  

Off-Site Investigations 

SIs can also request copies of carriers’ documents to review remotely as an off-site investigation. The SIs use these documents to identify safety performance and compliance problems.


What Happens When There’s a Crash? 

A trucking accident can be costly to a company in a range of obvious ways — such as loss of cargo or vehicle damage. But an accident can be the cause of many indirect costs as well, including lost customers, lost sales, and poor public relations. Crashes also impact carriers’ percentile ranking in CSA’s Safety Measurement System, which can increase the likelihood of an intervention or investigation. 

 And that introduces another potential cost: If carriers can’t produce copies of roadside inspections or repairs records when the accident is investigated, they may face steep non-compliance penalties, civil penalties, and even criminal charges.

Armed with mobile apps, drivers can immediately access inspections records and forms at any time, from any location. In addition, when carriers keep accurate and updated information, they’re better equipped to make sure each truck has been inspected and is in working order — which can help prevent accidents in the first place.   


Do you know how to handle an intervention?   

If you receive an initial warning letter, what should be your next step? Here are three things to consider:

Should you respond to the letter?

Actually, no response is necessary. FMCSA will continue to monitor your performance — it’s your job to immediately take steps to improve your safety performance so no further intervention is necessary. 

Should you prepare for an investigation?

A warning letter is just that — a warning. It does not indicate that FMCSA will conduct an investigation. However, if your safety performance and compliance don’t improve, FMCSA may decide to conduct additional interventions, which could include an investigation.

Take steps to improve your safety 

Now that you have received a warning, it’s up to you to improve your safety performance and compliance, and regularly monitor your SMS data to make sure you don’t put your company at risk for additional interventions. 


Using Mobile Inspection Data to Grow Your Business

Operating trucks of any size is essential for many businesses. Keeping them (and their drivers) on the road has a profound impact on profitability, so maintaining those vehicles is key. It directly affects your ability to compete and win new work in the market.  

Mobile apps can not only help you manage everything from preventive maintenance to daily and weekly inspections — they can also give you valuable insight into your data, which can help you find more business efficiencies and generate more revenue. 

  • Which drivers are most profitable?
  • Which ones routinely “forget” to do pre-trip inspections?
  • Which vehicles break down the most and at what time of year?
  • What are the most common problem areas found during inspections?


With GoCanvas apps, drivers can perform critical inspections for maintenance, pre- and post-trip, with ease. And you have the peace of mind that data is always available to access to keep your vehicles on the road generating revenue and your employees safe. 

The right tools can not only help you stay compliant, but also competitive. Compliance gets easier and vehicles stay on the road when inspections are completed on mobile apps. Key features of GoCanvas include:

  • Photos with inspections. Mobile apps allow the user to photograph wear, tear, and damage during a maintenance inspection.
  • GPS tracking. Knowing where an inspection took place helps you keep tabs on both your equipment and your employees.
  • Required fields. Requiring certain fields to be filled in ensures that all critical information is filled out on maintenance or pre-trip inspections. Data is more accurate, your company is more compliant, and your equipment keeps running.


Want to get started with inspections using mobile forms and apps? Sign up today for a free trial of GoCanvas or contact our team to learn more.