Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports: Overview
The Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) is often mistaken for the separate “pre-trip” inspection report. It is not. The DVIR is completed by the driver of a CMV at the end of each day of driving. However, the last DVIR for a vehicle must be reviewed and, in certain instances, signed by a driver before commencing driving for the day (or night, as the case may be). These reports may provide important information regarding the condition of a CMV over time, including in-between normal maintenance intervals and periodic inspections. Oftentimes, the DVIRs are made part of the form for driver’s daily logs. However, this does not alter the retention requirements for the DVIR.
Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports
With regard to DVIRs, the regulations set forth the following requirements:
1. At the end of each day of driving, a driver must complete a report on each vehicle he has operated during the day.
2. The DVIR must, at a minimum, address certain enumerated vehicle components, such as service and parking brakes, steering, tires, horns, wipers, and emergency equipment.
a. Intermodal vehicle operators are only required to have in place a system to receive driver reports. Drivers and motor carriers transporting intermodal equipment must report to the intermodal equipment provider or its designated agent any known damage, defects, or deficiencies in the equipment at the time it is returned to it. The report must cover, at a minimum, certain components of the intermodal equipment, including brakes, lighting devices, king pin couplers, air line connections, and so forth.
3. The DVIR must describe any defects or deficiencies discovered or reported to the driver that would affect the safe operation of the CMV or result in its breakdown.
4. If no deficiencies are found, the report should so state.
5. The driver must sign the report.
6. The driver must sign a report for each CMV operated.
7. In team operations, only one of the drivers needs to sign even if both drove, so long as both agree as to the report’s content.
8. If a deficiency is noted which would affect safe operation, it must be repaired before the CMV or intermodal equipment provider can be operated. This must be certified by the motor carrier on the original driver report which noted the deficiency.
9. The reports are to be kept for three months from the date of preparation. For DVIRs for intermodal equipment, the retention period is three months from the date that a motor carrier or its driver submits the report to the intermodal equipment provider or its agent.
DVIRs should be reviewed in every case. Where vehicle malfunction is suspected, any defects noted should be matched against records of repairs made. For example, if a tire with its belt showing is noted, the motor carrier should have produced a record of the purchase of a replacement tire. The certification on the report that necessary repairs were made should not be the end of the inquiry, or as Reagan famously told Gorbachev: “Trust but verify.” Reports marked up with deficiencies should always be carefully analyzed and followed up on any time a mechanical problem is suspected to have caused the collision.
The reports may also be used to throw the driver (and counsel) off-balance early in the deposition, especially if the driver cannot recall any of the problems documented on the report. The motor carrier’s personnel deserve to be quizzed on their own records, even if the records do not immediately appear to have a clear relation to the impact. In such a case, it is unlikely counsel has extensively prepared the employee-deponent as to the documents. Confronting the motor carrier or driver with the records may throw a brittle deponent into a full-fledged tailspin when the real problem documents begin to appear.
Both the tractor and trailer, in a combination vehicle, must be inspected, but one form report may be used for a single combination vehicle. The Regulations require that certain parts or accessories must be repaired before the vehicle can be operated again. The full list of these parts and accessories is contained in appendix G of the FMCSRs. The lessor of a vehicle has no responsibility to inspect the vehicle unless it is also the motor carrier. This is consistent with the general rule that the ultimate duty of inspection falls upon the motor carrier, regardless of whether the vehicles are owned or leased. If an inspection report was not prepared, or cannot be found, a driver may perform a pre-trip inspection and short road test, and subsequently prepare a report of that procedure prior to starting the operation of the CMV, as a substitute. The employee that certifies the correction of defects or deficiencies, or certifies that correction was unnecessary, is not required to be a mechanic or otherwise have training concerning CMV maintenance. Section 396.11 is not intended to establish minimum qualifications in this regard; thus any company official or agent of the motor carrier can do the DVIR certification. This is not true for individuals that perform the periodic or annual inspection, or those responsible for ensuring the correct performance of brake-related inspections, repairs, or maintenance tasks.
Pertinent Case Law: Ashton v. Knight Transportation Inc.
A Texas federal district court in Ashton v. Knight Transportation Inc., 2009 WL 4580801 (N.D.Tex. Dec. 4, 2009) upheld a request for four months of inspection reports by plaintiff over objection such was overly broad and unduly burdensome. The motor carrier failed to cite any authority that convinced the judge that the time frame for reports specified in the plaintiff’s request was excessive. The idea that a motor carrier should have to produce reports that are required to be maintained by the FMCSR is difficult to reconcile with the standard “overly broad and unduly burdensome” objection, except where the time for maintaining such documents has passed. Given that regulation specifies that DVIRs need only be maintained for three months, it appears the motor carrier missed an easy argument.