Who is DOT Compliance Help, Inc.?

So, who is DOT Compliance Help, Inc.? Any time I am introduced to a new company, I want to know:

  • Where did they come from?
  • What do they do?
  • Who are the key people?
    • In the next few pages, I hope to answer most of these questions
    • I want to help you know who we are

As many business managers have learned, DOT regulations are not just for trucking companies. If you are in ANY type business, including, but not limited to: construction, manufacturing, importing, distribution, etc., and you need a 10,000-lb-plus truck for any business chores, chances are the DOT regulations apply to you.

The way the agency puts it this way: “The rules. . . are applicable to all employers, employees, and commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) that transport property or passengers in interstate commerce.”

To fully understand this we have to look at the definition of CMVs and the definition of interstate commerce.
Commercial Motor Vehicle: “self-propelled or towed vehicle used on public highways in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when:

1) The vehicle has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 or more pounds; or

2) The vehicle is designed to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver; or

3) The vehicle is used in the transportation of hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placarding. . .”


Interstate commerce: “trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States—

(1) Between a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States);

(2) Between two places in a State through another State or a place outside of the United States; or

(3) Between two places in a State as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the State or the United States.”


But if you are, let’s say, a company specializing in the manufacture of beer, cupcakes, dogfood, greeting cards, frozen pizzas, bicycles, ball bearings, sporting goods, toy tanks, toy trucks or toy airplanes, and you have one or two trucks that are used to bring raw materials or take finished goods to UPS for shipping, you are going to hire people that know how to make these things, and not people that have been educated in the FMCSA safety regulations that apply to the operations of CMVs.

Sooner or later, someone in top management says to some newly-hired member of the management team, “Here, read up on this DOT stuff and let’s make sure we do this right, so we don’t get in trouble with that agency” or some words to that effect.

Here is where DOT Compliance Help Inc. brings value to the transaction: If you just appointed someone, or if you are the unhappy patsy that just got appointed, in order to become the subject matter expert on what no one really wants to know about (DOT Compliance), you have several choices to get up to speed: One, You could try to read the regulation; (I’ll give you a shortcut, but I don’t recommend this technique: http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov).

Two, you could read a book; (I’ll give you a shortcut for that too, but I also don’t recommend this technique: www.labelmaster.com – FMCSR).

Or, third, and my recommendation, is: Go to a 4-day seminar and get some training from an expert. I’ve both run a business and I’ve worked for the agency, and I’ve been a consultant for 10 years now.

I’ll help you understand, first of all, how the FMCSA, DOT, federal and state motor carrier safety regulations can impact your business, and give you some pointers how to avoid the most-unpleasant interactions. (The FMCSA calls these “Interventions”), as well as those pesky roadside inspection violations.

In 1988, I left a short career as a newspaper reporter, and took a job as a junior member of a company that dispatched CMVs, and when the topic of DOT Regulations came up, I was the one that drew the short straw, and had to get up to speed really quickly as we were already up and running, following some rules and unwittingly breaking others.

From 1988 through 2005, I held various management positions including safety manager, office manager, owner, and general manager of a motor carrier (Company operating a fleet of CMVs) and transportation manager for a distribution company. During this time I also was a commissioned officer in the Army reserves / National Guard (I actually changed from AR to ARNG and back to AR), being activated twice. I moved from Missouri to Ohio, then Colorado and finally to northern Illinois, where I live now with my wife and three misfit dogs.

As a military officer, I got some training and experience leading soldiers, organizing deployments, constructing roads, bridges and buildings, and had a lot of interesting experiences, most of which were enjoyable and all of which helped me become the person I am today. While my responsibilities ranged from operating a field hospital, a cavalry unit (think tanks that move back and forth in the area between US Forces, our allies and the enemy), and several types of military engineering, safety was always an important part of my job and on one occasion it  was my primary responsibility. I retired from the reserves in 2007, after a total of 28 years.

In 2005, I took a position with the FMCSA as a field auditor, leaving in January 2007 due to extensive travel and changing work conditions. While working with the FMCSA, I encountered a handful of “Safety consultants” and I was unimpressed with their knowledge or their helpfulness. I considered getting another job in fleet management, but thought I would try something different first: What if I could become a consultant and help several motor carriers with their fleet operations? This idea led to the creation of DOT Compliance Help, Inc. We were incorporated in August 2007, but I cashed the first check that was written to me as a consultant in March 2007.

Here is what I thought I was going to be doing: I thought I would be, more or less, the head of the safety department for 6 or 8 trucking companies, (hopefully close to home), with the administrative effort done by others. Instead, we learned that a lot of people just wanted me to come in and show them what is supposed to be done in a few days. The first 8 or 10 of these companies put people in the top safety management position that didn’t know anything about the DOT  regulations, and I told each of them they need to go to a seminar to learn about the DOT regs. All these people called and emailed me repeatedly for weeks, telling me they could not find a seminar to attend.

Soon, we put together a training event; initially there were 4 sessions: Two for management and two for drivers. Over the last 10 years, that has grown into the 4-day seminar we have. It’s not done; I’m never satisfied with it. When we first started, we (my wife and I) read a book called ‘consulting for dummies’ or something like that. We don’t do everything exactly the way the author suggested, but there is one thing: “Update your charts”. I do that constantly.

I enjoy speaking with small groups, because I like helping people. When they first file in I see fear in their eyes, as they are completely afraid the DOT will just walk in one day and find something they do not like about the business, and shut it down or levy huge fines or worse. After the first day, and increasingly as they come to understand the way to learn and apply the FMCSRs, I see the fear melt away, and when the seminar is completed, I see people walking away with some confidence they can develop and implement a world-class safety management system back at their company. Or, at least, keep their co-workers out of trouble with the DOT.

Sometimes attending a seminar is not enough; sometimes it is helpful to have us come in and help with the driver qualification process, the drug & alcohol testing process, or other aspects of managing a fleet. I try to avoid non-FMCSA questions, but ultimately, I get a few (like: how or whether to incorporate, or what computer systems to use, or how to communicate with drivers, or where to get good loads.)

So if you are the new guy and someone just “threw the book at you” (made you responsible for your company’s DOT Compliance efforts), take a look at our seminar schedule.

Chances are, we have a seminar soon that fits your schedule.

If you would like us to train more than 4 – 5 members of your management staff, it might be more economical for us to come to you with a customized presentation.

If you can’t get away for 4 days initially, maybe you want to attend a 2-day seminar, or day 1 and 2 of a 4-day event. But, after a couple months, we hope you find time for the last half, so you will understand the big picture.

If you have more than a few trucks and there is a big mess (Like no driver files, no records of duty status, that sort of thing) we can help you get a system up and running.

Thanks for taking a minute to read up on DOT Compliance Help Inc.

We look forward to helping you as you improve your knowledge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and what they mean for you and your business.

DOT Compliance Help, Inc.

Mike England, President and Senior Safety Consultant



The Private Motor Carrier as Sun Tzu (The Art of War) Part 1

Sun Tzu the Private Motor Carrier

 Sometimes I refer to Sun Tzu during seminars; and I always start by saying “Some of you have probably heard of Sun Tzu.” It’s not unusual for people to have read something about this Chinese mercenary general who lived 5 centuries before Christ.

But most people have never thought about this: If Sun Tzu was here today, and he was the traffic manager for, let’s say, a construction company, how would he approach the role?

Here’s what we know about Sun Tzu: One of the most-frequently-quoted truths found in Sun Tzu’s book, The Art of War, is this one:

 “Know the enemy and know yourself”

As an engineering officer in the Army, I was told Sun Tzu said “Know yourself; Know your enemy, and Prepare the battlefield”.

While this might be an imaginative interpretation, stemming from some charismatic Army staff officer in the 1980’s, we don’t know that Sun Tzu didn’t say this. And, we can easily apply these 3 rules to every challenge, every decision, every challenge we will ever face. I will demonstrate:

  • Know yourself.

If Sun Tzu were assigned the responsibility of managing a fleet of construction vehicles today, I believe the first thing he might do is to make a list of his assets, or ask someone to do it for him. Depending on the size of the organization, you may be a one-man shop or you might be able to delegate some mundane tasks. Either way, you must have a list of CMVs, by year, make, model, and GVWR.

Then, he would probably study the accident register and loss runs, as well as moving violations in the past 24 months. This last is easily done by signing on to SMS. Your recent history is the most-reliable predictor of your immediate future.

Another step Sun Tzu would probably take is to review all training records for the most-recent 24 months. Have we done some good training? Have we put it off? Have we been overly-reliant on some pre-recorded training materials of dubious quality?

Finally, I believe Sun Tzu would rely on his instincts, walking around and taking an informal measure of the organizations safety  controls and the way people respond to them. Do people ignore rules that are clearly posted? Do people follow rules to the letter, grudgingly? Or do people cheerfully follow the spirit of company safety rules, because they know these rules are meant to save lives?

This might include visiting some construction jobs, listening to people talk, taking an informal measure of how well-developed the company’s safety management controls are and how seriously people are taking them.

Next time, the 2nd part of Sun Tzu’s first lesson; know your enemy.


“Don’t lose the lesson” – Root Cause Analysis

During seminars, I always try to encourage people to devote a percentage of their time to case studies. “When you lose, don’t lose the lesson” I say. “Learn from your mistakes. But, don’t wait ‘til you have had a tragedy to find a way to improve your own safety management controls. Learn from other’s mistakes.”

So pick up a newspaper from time to time, particularly when there has been a truck crash near you or in your industry, and read the article with a critical mind; thinking about root cause.

A lady in a car T-bones a school bus while she is talking on her cell phone. No one is hurt, but maybe this is a reminder to do some training on the consequences of distracted driving; with particular emphasis on decreasing cell phone use while operating CMVs. Maybe you even want to review your company’s policy on the practice.

In May 2013, A 51-year old man driving a garbage truck, talking on a cell phone, ignores an unmarked rail grade crossing, crossing in front of an oncoming train. The resulting derailment was caused by a driver who was talking on a cell phone using a hands-free device. Here is a shortcut to some news coverage of the NTSB report: http://www.wbaltv.com/news/ntsb-distracted-truck-driver-caused-rosedale-train-crash/29275356. Now, even though the driver was held to be responsible, there were also some changes made to the immediate surroundings and there was some serious discussion of who is responsible for maintaining infrastructure immediately adjacent to a rail-grade crossing. But we can all think about that driver using a hands-free device; do you have drivers who do this a bit too much? Maybe just a sobering word is all you can offer them. Personal cell phone use is a difficult thing to monitor, but you can try to share with your drivers some reasons they should consider cutting back, if they are on the phone constantly.

When I was a young man getting started in life, I joined the Army and soon found myself in the 82nd Airborne Division. I still read news items about paratroopers; possibly more than the average person would. In September 2013, there was a tragic parachute incident that took the life of a senior officer, and the Army conducted some really serious root-cause analysis: if you’d like to read about it, this is pretty sobering. It’s not about trucks but it’s about an organization learning from its mistakes: http://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/military/article25874407.html

I think, to some extent, all organizations do a pretty good job of learning from their mistakes. But how about learning from other people’s mistakes? I think we could all do a bit better; even my favorite organization: What if the officer who died on a routine parachute jump in September 2013 was in the French Army? Or the British Army? Do you think we would have made the same adjustments? Now let me ask another sobering question: What if this exact incident happened to a French staff officer in 2012, and the US Army ignored it, then a senior commander in the US Army suffered a similar fate in September 2013. You would say the Army failed to learn an important lesson, right?
So the next time there is an article about a truck crash in your local newspaper, or you hear about something on the radio, listen to the details and ask yourself “What caused that crash” or “Why are those people dead now?”. Sometimes you have to wait days, weeks, even a year or more, to find out what really went wrong. If it is a multiple fatality, the NTSB will eventually release an in-depth report. Look for lessons learned. Look for root cause. Think about what you can do to keep the same incident from occurring with one of your drivers.

Remember, “when you lose, don’t lose the lesson”.

But don’t wait until you experience a tragic loss; learn from other people’s mistakes and misfortune as well. It will accelerate your learning curve as an organization.

Mike England

DOT Compliance Help Inc



Fixing the Five Dollar Haircut (Or, Sometimes it’s better to do things right the first time.)

Fixing the Five Dollar Haircut  (Or, Sometimes it’s better to do things right the first time.)

Many of you have surely heard the story of the $5 haircut before, but in case some have not, I’ll try to recap it briefly here.

The story goes like this; there is a barber in a small town – let’s call him Barber Smith – who has had most of the town’s business for several years. The town grows, the highway in and out of town gets smoother, cars go faster, and some people drive the 20 miles to a larger community and a bigger selection of barbers and beauticians. But enough locals patronize Barber Smith. He has just enough business to keep him busy, and charges seven dollars for a trim.

One day, a new barber moved to town, and right across the street from Smith’s shop, the new barber – we’ll call him Barber Davis – rented a shop and put a sign in front offering “$5.00 haircuts” . . .

Predictably, many of Smith’s long-time customers strayed across the street to save $2.00 on a haircut. Not surprisingly, the quality of the cheap haircut turns out to be substandard, and as soon as people’s hair started to grow out they discovered it was uneven and spikey.

What do you do with a bad haircut? Even as it grows it continues to be a bad haircut.

Well, here is one answer; you go back to the last good barber who did a good job. Sure enough, a few of Smith’s customers returned to have things put right, and before long, Smith put up a new sign across from the cut-rate barber and his $5.00 haircut sign. The new sign says “We fix $5.00 haircuts.”

The moral is, sometimes the cheapest option is not the best choice.

Sometimes I feel like the older barber.

If a person or three wants to start a trucking company, they can call me up and I’ll help them do things right the first time. Or, you can start a business without a clue, do things wrong, forget to do things that are important and that can get you in hot water with the DOT, and next thing you know, your frugality starts to cost you money in ways you had not anticipated. Maybe the DOT shuts you down. Maybe there’s a wreck and everyone is convinced they are going to jail, because all those things they said they didn’t know about. . . they knew they needed to do that – they just didn’t know how.

There are big fines from the agency, or your business is threatened when the DOT assigns you a less-than-satisfactory safety rating and some of your customers won’t return your calls any more.

Some people call me in these circumstances – to come in and fix what was not done right the first time. A bit like fixing the five-dollar haircut.


There have been a lot of customers who have come to us here at DOT Compliance Help Inc. after having a bad experience with a so-called DOT Expert who turned out not to know so much.

I’ve been in the business since 1988, but that’s not the whole story.
I have a unique way of explaining and demonstrating things, and my customers know not only what the FMCSA wants them to do, they know what to do FIRST. They know which mistakes might land them in jail. And where to find a checklist of things to do. And how to prioritize their effort. In short, I explain to people how to do the things that are discussed in the FMCSR.

“I got this email about your seminar, but I found this other seminar that cost less. . . Now after going to that seminar I don’t think I understand anything more than I did before.” . . . this is something I have heard numerous times.

This one is even worse. “After I apparently failed my safety audit, the DOT Was talking about shutting me down, and I hired this guy that said he could get everything done for me for $XX.XX. . . he took my money and printed out a bunch of flyers and left them here and now he doesn’t answer his phone. And I’m shut down in 4 days.”

There are a few people that have worked for the DOT for some time, and they know one slice of the organization’s responsibilities. But they have never worked for a trucking company.

Motor carrier management people hear this when they talk “According to 391.27, you have to blah, blah, blah, blabity blah” . . .  it’s one thing to memorize the regulation, and another thing entirely to explain it in actionable terms.


So here’s my advice; let me help you understand the regulations, and how to get it right the first time. If you decide to go it alone, or purchase services from a cheaper source, or just take a guess, I’ll be here to help you later. But my favorite customers are those who contact me before things are done wrong and before the DOT starts to take action and before the lawyers have anything to sink their teeth into.

For instance, THE VERY FIRST THING YOU MIGHT DO is getting your DOT number and MC authority – it’s pretty simple but if you’ve never done it before, a lot of people pay a permit company a lot of money to do it and THEY ALWAYS DO IT WRONG.

If you ask me to get your DOT number for you, I will get it in 30 minutes and it won’t cost you a penny.

If you want me to help with the MC Authority, I’ll do the online filing for you for almost nothing and it will be done right the first time. If this isn’t done right – and the permit companies never do – it’s nearly impossible to fix and it can cause you problems for years.

So call us before the DOT calls you. I enjoy helping you do it right the first time.


Prosthetic Arm Medical Waiver Question

We recently had a fellow on Facebook post this question to us:  Read more of this post

Hours of Service Ruling Challenge – The Verdict is In

THE VERDICT IS IN on the new Hours of Service ruling challenge: Read more of this post

Why are CMV operators complaining about being restricted to less than 14 hours work per day?

My real question is, how many other people (other than truck drivers) DO work more than 14 hours each day?

I cannot tell you how many people have said to me “I just can’t make any money if Read more of this post

You Really Should Do A Road Test, No Matter What

There are a few reasons why people choose not to test a driver applicant before hiring him or her: it takes time, (and time equals money), you might not know HOW to test them, or maybe you don’t have someone TO test them; the biggest one of all could be, depending on interpretation, it might not actually be required!

However, you really should do a road test, no matter what…and I’ll explain why.

First, Read more of this post

For the first time there’s some hard data on the effectiveness of BASIC scores to predict crashes and fatalities

“Arlington, VA – The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) today released a report examining Read more of this post

“Does anyone know of a good log scanner?”

Recently I was directed to a forum where someone had asked:
“Does anyone know of a good log scanner?”

And I had to be a jerk and question the question. (Agree or disagree, it is food for thought.)

Here is how I answered: Read more of this post