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There are drivers that have valid complaints, but don’t know how to report a company to DOT. We’ll talk about how you can gather information so that you can make a complaint if you need to and do it the right way. Plus a couple of alternatives to get your voice heard.
When should I file a complaint with DOT
There is almost an unlimited number of scenarios where you could file a complaint with DOT to try to get them to take some action.
In my experience here are the most common.
Maintenance and equipment issues
This is usually the number one reason drivers decide to get a hold of USDOT and lodge a complaint.
Just like people try and stretch their dollars at home, companies try and stretch their dollars or ‘tighten their belts’ as much as they can. You may not like it, but you can understand it under certain circumstances.
Here’s the problem;
Some companies take the whole ‘belt tightening’ to the extreme that not only puts the driver behind the wheel in danger, but the public also.
They will run equipment for as long as possible knowing that they are taking a chance with peoples lives. It’s at this point that it’s pretty clear that the company is more interested in making a buck that human life. Disgraceful.
Some of these items I’ll mention require that you look a little deeper than just a standard pre trip, but it can save your life or someone else’s.
Tires are expensive, there’s no doubt about it. But when your running tires to the point of having the wire cord sticking out (I’ve cut my hands inspecting tires because of this) or deep cuts into the sidewall fabric, you asking for trouble.
There’s never a good time to blow a tire and it’s even worse when it’s on the front tire.
So, your tires are fine, but what about the wheels they’re mounted on?
Wheels that are cracked between lug nut holes, bent and otherwise damaged can cause you to have a flat tire.
Or even worse…
The entire wheel and tire to come off at highway speed. Never a good day when this happens.
Are they all working?
Aside from tires, one of the other ways that companies like to cut corners is not keeping all of the brakes on the vehicle in proper working condition. This includes brake lining (or brake pads) and the brake ‘cans’ or air brake chambers.
Take a look underneath periodically at you brake chambers.
- Do they look like they haven’t moved in while?
- Is the slack adjuster still attached properly?
If you have a partner that can help you, it’s worth having them apply the brakes while you watch the brakes.
I don’t recommend crawling under the tractor unless you absolutely, positively know what you’re doing.
Brakes can be spotted easily on most trailers, which is where most problems will come from because of the abuse that trailers take.
For tractors, front brakes are generally easy to access so you can observe problems without putting yourself at risk.
Other maintenance issues that are typically ignored by fly by night carriers are:
- Broken frames on either the truck or trailer
- No periodic checks or servicing the vehicle
- Coupling parts such as the fifth wheel plate, drawbars, pintle hooks etc.
Driver or employee abuse
This is a bigee.
Typically, what happens is drivers are forced by the company to work longer hours than they’re supposed to under the rules. On top of that, they are usually not paid for the extra time.
Having done compliance reviews on carriers in the past who failed to pay their employees on time or up to a couple weeks late, this is a bad sign of things to come.
Many employees never get paid at all in these situations.
With these type of carriers, maintenance problems and employee abuse usually go hand in hand.
Document the problems
There is a saying that goes ‘If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen’.
The first step in reporting a company to DOT (or anywhere else) is documentation. You will need to have some form of documentation of the problems that you’re dealing with.
Here’s the sad fact;
If you don’t document what’s going on, you’ll just be considered a ‘disgruntled employee’ and it will be touch and go as to whether anyone will take you seriously.
The fact is that documenting problems is going to take a little extra work and organization on your part to do it right. But, if you’re serious it won’t be a problem.
Not sure where to start?
Remember, I’m not an attorney but here are a few simple things you can do to document Problems.
Copy your paperwork
Have you been turning DVIR’s with problems and they are never addressed?
Make your own copies and hold on to them and put them in a file at home.
You may also want copies of shipping papers, bills of lading and weight slips or all three as they apply to the work you’re doing.
Were you inspected recently and had a large number of violations? You’ll want to have a copy of that to. This shows that you were inspected with all of the problems you’ve mentioned and is an official record.
Make sure to copy any other company specific paperwork that you are required to keep.
Can you start to see the paper trail that your building here?
And you haven’t taken a single photo of the problem yet!
Keep a diary
I know it seems a bit out dated, but having things written down and signed by your own hand is recommended.
Go to any store and buy a notebook that you keep with you when your at work. Keep track of the date, time and describe the problem and whether or not it was taken care of.
Use your cell phone
If you have a cell phone (and who doesn’t these days) you have at your disposal an awesome tool for documentation.
Not only should you take good pictures, but let’s not forget you have a video camera also. Take good video and narrate the problem.
If you don’t want to keep a handwritten diary, I would suggest doing video diaries of what’s going on.
Be careful about recording people without prior consent, this can get you in trouble in some states.
Do. Not. Lie.
With all of your information collection be honest. If you lie, your complaint will more than likely not be taken seriously and just viewed as a disgruntled employee.
How to file a complaint with DOT
To file a complaint with USDOT directly, you call the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration directly at:
1.888.DOT.SAFT (368.7238) from 8am – 8pm, Monday – Friday, EST.
You can also submit a complaint online at:
The website will walk you through the steps and is pretty user friendly.
Although you can call or file a complaint online, you may want to consider an alternative.
Once you have information, it’s best to start with your state’s highway patrol or state police. Chances are, these agencies are going to be interested in hearing about local carriers that are potentially going to cause problems on the highways and create work for them.
Upon hearing your complaint, they may actually dispatch troopers specifically to check out vehicles from the carrier and see for themselves what’s going on.
If they encounter problems they usually address the problems immediately which gets the attention of the offending company.
Starting with state commercial enforcement often times yields faster results. In certain cases, they may refer your case to FMCSA which can also speed things up.
File complaints with other state and federal agencies
Depending on the exact nature of what’s going on with the company you work for it’s good to keep in mind that there may be other state, federal and other entities that you can lodge a complaint with.
In addition to USDOT, you may also want to file complaints with:
OSHA – They deal with the safety of your workplace environment
EPA – If you’re dealing with a company that’s unsafe with hazardous waste or hazardous materials, you may want to notify them.
Dept of Labor – Have pay and other issues? You may also want to contact them.
Remember that there are usually state equivalents of these federal agencies, and that can be a better place to start.
Other places to get your voice heard
The Better Business Bureau – I’m being a bit creative here. I don’t know if they would take a complaint per se, but you could let them know that your company is not on the up and up.
Trucking associations – While you may not be able to file a complaint, most states have a state trucking association that may provide you with further assistance. This would be in addition to any other large trucking association (like OOIDA).
Look local – Sometimes with all of this it’s easy to focus nationally. Is there a local organization that can help? Better yet, get a hold any local politicians and try that angle.
Don’t make frivolous complaints
Lastly, don’t make frivolous complaints. Don’t gum up the system for the next guy or gal who has a real issue that needs to be dealt with.
Don’t make up stories to get people in trouble because you don’t like them and don’t ‘cry wolf’.
The good thing is that in today’s day and age, drivers have a lot of resources at their disposal to resolve serious issues with carriers from complaining to DOT or hiring an attorney if it’s serious enough.
You know what the best tool that drivers have at their disposal for bad companies?
Drivers are in demand now, and there’s no reason to tolerate being treated like garbage.