Periodic or Annual Inspections: Overview
The Regulations require the periodic inspection of a CMV, commonly referred to as “the annual.” The CMV must pass the inspection at least once a year using the criteria set forth by the FMCSA. The components of the required inspection are the “minimum.” There are various ways in which a motor carrier may comply with the periodic inspection duty. This inspection is distinguishable from the IMR requirements imposed by vehicle manufacturers.
It is not unusual to find that a CMV involved in a crash lacks a “current annual” and therefore arguably should not have been on the road. However, there is a proximate causation hurdle to clear before a jury question will arise from the lack of annual. The court will need to be shown that the missed annual would have revealed a defect or deficiency that contributed to the collision.
For example, in a blown tire case, the court will need to be convinced that the missed annual, if performed, would have discovered excess wear and tear that would have required the replacement of the tire. To get to that point, one will first need to support the premise that the wear and tear was excessive. If the tire remnants were secured and preserved pursuant to a spoliation letter, they should be thoroughly inspected and measured. The excessiveness of any wear and tear can then be confirmed by comparing the results to the requirements in the Regulations, the guidelines of the vehicle and tire manufacturer, and possibly, the motor carrier’s own policies. Discovery will also be needed to learn things like when the tire was installed and how many years it was used on the CMV and how many road miles the CMV accrued during that time (which should be closely compared with the manufacturer’s suggested guidelines). One will need to determine if other inspections were performed and when, and production of the reports should be secured. They should be closely scrutinized for any mention of tire tread depth, use of retread tires, and the like.
If the information acquired up to this point still supports a theory that the tire was deficient and that the annual could have discovered that fact, then a deposition of the motor carrier’s safety officer should easily elicit self-serving testimony that their vehicle inspections are “thorough” and their inspectors are “pros” that “they rarely miss any problems.” At that point, an expert or experts in tire safety or CMV inspection should have all the evidence needed to support the opinion that, had the annual been done, it would have revealed the same thing counsel’s own investigation revealed: a bad tire that went undiscovered because the requirement of the annual inspection was not observed.
Periodic CMV Inspection & Recordkeeping
All CMVs are subject to the periodic or annual inspection requirements, including trailers, trailer dollies, trucks, semi-trailers, and so forth. Although the outline below refers only to motor carriers, providers of intermodal equipment are also required to comply with annual inspection requirements.
1. The annual inspection must include the parts and accessories described at Appendix G of the FMCSR.
2. Motor carriers are responsible for making certain that CMVs subject to their control are inspected, unless the vehicle has already been properly inspected through a state or other jurisdiction’s roadside inspection program.
3. All components listed in Appendix G must pass the inspection, or else the CMV cannot be used until it has been repaired.
4. The inspection must be done at least once every twelve months.
5. Proof that the inspection has been done must be “on the vehicle.” This proof can consist of:
a. the inspection report prepared by a qualified inspector
b. a sticker or decal based on the inspection report and containing
b.i. the inspection date
b.ii. the name and address of the motor carrier or other entity where the inspection report is maintained
b.iii. information uniquely identifying the vehicle inspected if not clearly marked elsewhere on the vehicle
b.iv. a certification that the vehicle passed the periodic inspection.
6. A motor carrier may perform the annual inspection itself if it has an employee who is a qualified inspector, or may have it done by a commercial business which has the facilities to perform the inspection and uses qualified inspectors.
7. To be a “qualified inspector,” an individual must meet a lengthy list of criteria, including but not limited to:
a. completion of a federal- or state-sponsored training program or a combination of training and experience totaling at least 1 year
b. experience and knowledge of the parts and accessories described in Part 393 and Appendix G
c. the ability to identify defective components.
8. The motor carrier must keep evidence of the inspector’s qualifications for the period he or she is performing the inspections and for one year thereafter. § 396.19(b). The motor carrier need not maintain inspector qualifications for those done as part of a state periodic inspection program or at the roadside as part of a random roadside inspection.
9. If the motor carrier has its equipment inspected by a state government or the FMCSA that passes the minimum standards of appendix G, this will suffice for a periodic inspection for 12 months after the last day of the month in which the inspection is performed.
a. However, in those instances, the burden is on the motor carrier to make certain the state or FMCSA inspection complies with the requirements of Appendix G.
b. The FMCSA has determined that a Level I or Level V Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) inspection meets the requirements of regulation for a periodic inspection.
10. The qualified inspector that performs the inspection must prepare a report that describes the results of the inspection and certifies that the inspection was accurate and complete, as well as also identifying:
a. the name of the inspector
b. the motor carrier operating the vehicle
c. the date of inspection
d. the vehicle inspected
e. the components inspected
f. any components that did not meet the minimum standards of Appendix G.
11. The motor carrier or other entity responsible for the inspection must keep the original report or a copy for 14 months after the date of the report. If the motor carrier did not perform the last annual inspection itself, then it must be able to obtain an original or copy of the report upon the demand of an authorized local, state or federal official.