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What Is the “Duty to Inspect” & Why Is It Important?

What Is the "Duty to Inspect" & Why Is It Important?

Motor Carriers & Truckers Have a Duty to Inspect 18-Wheelers. Here’s Why & Why It Matters After Wrecks

The “duty to inspect” refers to the obligation truckers and motor carriers have to routinely inspect big rigs for any potential mechanical problems or equipment issues. Beyond conducting the actual inspections and any required follow-up repairs, trucking companies and drivers are also required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to maintain records of these inspections for a certain period.

Here’s a closer look at how the “duty to inspect” works, why it exists, and what it all can really mean when it’s time to file a truck accident claim after a tractor-trailer wreck.

What Is the Duty to Inspect?

According to the FMCSA, “every motor carrier shall systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles subject to its control” (§ 396.3(a)). This is the basis for motor carriers’ duty to inspect the big rigs and other commercial vehicles their drivers operate.

These truck inspections, according to federal regulations, must occur annually (every 12 months), as well as more frequently for certain equipment or under specific conditions.

Annual Truck Inspections

A qualified inspector must look over each truck in a fleet, and the vehicle will only pass as long as all equipment listed here is in good working condition. If any component on that list is not working properly and safely, the truck should not be on the roads until:

  1. The broken component(s) have been properly fixed.
  2. Another inspection to confirm the fix has been conducted.

Here is an example of an annual truck inspection report form (blank). Records of these inspection reports must be retained for at least 14 months from the date of the inspection.

Inspections Every 90 Days

Every 90 days at least, the following essential safety equipment on big rigs must be inspected:

  • Emergency doors
  • Emergency door marking lights
  • Pushout windows

Truck Driver Inspections

When truckers are on the roads, they are required by federal law to:

  • Complete a daily written post-trip inspection report after at the end of each driving shift (for a given workday)
  • Identify the vehicle on their inspection report and document any defects or deficiencies found during the inspection that could impact safety or cause a mechanical failure
  • Repair any defects or problems that could interfere with the safe handling of the truck before that vehicle is put back on the roads
  • Certify that any listed defect or problem has been repaired or that it doesn’t immediately require repair before continuing to drive that truck

Motor carriers have to keep original copies of driver inspection records for at least 3 months after they are created.

Other Inspections

These are by no means the only commercial vehicle inspections mandated by law. Roadside inspections, inspections after crashes, and pre-trip inspections are a few others set forth by federal trucking regulations. Documentation of these inspections also come with their own recordkeeping requirements.

Why Is the Duty to Inspect Important?

The duty to inspect is important for a few key reasons, including that it can:

  • Prevent truck accidents: When motor carriers and truckers comply with the duty to inspect, they are far more likely to catch and repair issues that could lead to serious mechanical failures and 18-wheeler accidents. Given that about 1 in 10 truck accidents involves some type of vehicle-related problem, some have raised questions about whether the issue lies with the inspections, failures to repair, or inherently defective equipment. 
  • Play a central role in truck accident investigations: Truck inspection records document dates, defects, repair needs, and a lot more. As such, these records can be very important to tractor-trailer accident claims, particularly when equipment failures may have caused an accident.

The Duty to Inspect, Trucking Safety & 18-Wheeler Accidents: The Bottom Line

When it comes to commercial vehicle inspections, trucking regulations establish clear requirements for how and when these inspections must occur to keep big rigs safe on the roads. If motor carriers or drivers fail to honor their duty to inspect and truck accidents happen, these negligent parties can be liable for compensating victims for their injuries and losses.