|January 29, 2009|
Previously published on January 6, 2009
As the years role by and the boxes of records pile up, you may wonder just exactly how long the Department of Transportation (DOT) requires you to keep company records. Do you have to keep them forever? Just seven years like tax returns? Or can you have a beer and a late night shredding party moments after learning of a roll-over accident?
With the exclusion of the last choice, the DOT’s answer is that it depends. It depends primarily on what type of document it is. Below is a list of the various record retention periods for different types of documents.
- Drive Vehicle Inspection Reports. Under Section 396.9, if the DOT performs a Driver Vehicle Inspection Report, that report must be maintained by the carrier for 12 months from the date of inspection. This includes reports prepared at a roadside inspection or a weigh station, performed by either a DOT inspector or state trooper.
- Inspection, Repair and Maintenance Records. Under Section 396.3, if the vehicle (which includes trailers) is in the control of a company for 30 days or more (which may exclude certain owner operators), the company must retain those records for a minimum of 18 months after the vehicle has left the control of the company. Under this rule, even if the tractor or trailer was sold by company A to company B, company A must keep the inspection, maintenance and repair records for 18 months after the sale.
- Driver Maintenance and Performance Reports. Under Section 396.11, every driver must prepare a written report regarding the condition of a variety of maintenance and performance aspects of the vehicle after every day of driving. This means that, in addition to log books, the driver must indicate whether various systems and components, such as brakes, horn, etc., are functioning normally or require inspection or repair. These types of daily maintenance and performance reports must be maintained by the company for a period of three months from the date the report was prepared.
- Annual Equipment Inspection Records. Under Section 396.17 and 396.21, every motor vehicle must go through a full inspection at least once every 12 months and a record of the inspection be kept for at least 14 months.
- All Other Records. Appendix A to Part 379 provides for a complex series of retention periods for more than 50 different categories of documents. The longest retention period is three years beyond the expiration or cancellation of the license or agreement and three years beyond the disposition of the equipment.
If maintaining records for different periods of time is problematic, keeping records for a minimum of three years beyond the expiration or cancellation of the license or agreement, and three years beyond the disposition of the equipment, is generally a safe rule of thumb since this is the longest record retention requirement by the DOT. However, to ensure that documents are not destroyed prior to the mandatory record retention period, consulting with an attorney is essential before destroying any sensitive documents. The company may request a ruling from the Secretary of the DOT regarding the required retention of any document. After the required retention periods, the records may be destroyed at the discretion of each company’s management.