Passing Grades

| May 03, 2005

Owner-operator Gary Newman says drivers who leave equipment in disrepair are often the real cause of inspection trouble.

Company safety officers, operations chiefs, mechanics and even DOT inspectors say it over and over: sooner or later all trucks get stopped and inspected without warning. The only question is when.

Passing your inspection is simple – do good pretrips every day before driving and posttrips every night after parking; if something’s wrong, get it fixed before you run.

If drivers did only that, there wouldn’t be trucks placed out of service, fines to pay for non-compliance with Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations, or CB horror stories about DOT inspectors possessed by trucker-hating demons, cackling as they create brake violations out of thin air.

“It’s not like truckers don’t know it’s going to happen,” says 25-year trucking veteran Marty Fortun. “Usually they announce the 72-hour inspection checks two or three months ahead. When the drivers hear that announcement, they need to get prepared for it and be ready.”

Roadcheck 2005 is June 7-9.

DOT inspectors are checking everything listed on the CDL pretrip, says Fortun, now a Schneider National driving instructor out of Green Bay, Wis. “From your belts to your brakes to your exhaust, and everything in between,” he says. Fortun tells all his trainees to “keep out of trouble with the little problems and you’ll keep out of trouble with the big problems, because the little problems won’t have a chance to grow.”

Fortun and his wife Lisa have more than 4 million accident-free miles between them, and neither has ever failed a CVSA or FMCSA inspection.

Among drivers who do the right thing, the horror stories aren’t about DOT inspectors but fellow drivers. “The guy who had this trailer before me dropped it that way,” says owner-operator Gary Newman. The trailer hooked to his truck is backed into a repair bay at a truckstop. “It doesn’t have any brakes,” he says. The company he’s leased to, TransAm Trucking, picks up the repair tab, but he still loses time. “I should be in Houston right now,” he says. Drivers who drop a trailer with mechanical problems only pass their responsibility on to their co-workers.

“The most common violations are brake violations,” says Collin Mooney, director of training programs at the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and a former inspector. “It could be anything from no brakes to brakes out of adjustment to missing or broken parts.”

The only way drivers can be sure their brakes will pass a surprise roadside inspection is by doing what the safety officers do during a level one, two or five check: get a small flashlight, crawl under and look. Beginning drivers should inspect their brakes, but they are prohibited by law from adjusting them. “By DOT regulations, drivers with under a year of experience cannot adjust brakes on tractor or trailer,” Fortun says. “Drivers with under a year of experience or who are unsure of their brakes should talk with somebody who knows.”

Some drivers believe state, local and federal inspectors who start poking around trucks with flashlights are harassing them. “I used to get that all the time,” Mooney says. “Drivers would think I was picking on them. But I wasn’t picking on them. That’s the standard.”
Mooney is referring to the standard all CVSA and DOT inspectors follow for inspecting a vehicle. “Appearance, nationality and company reputation have nothing to do with it,” Mooney says. “The standard is the standard.”

All trucks are inspected the same way, according to the same criteria. “Troopers cannot be jacks of all trades,” Mooney says. “They have to specialize in order to do a quality job.” Those who perform motor vehicle inspections have been trained to follow a set inspection procedure and observe set standards. They are certified by the CVSA, much the same way skilled workers are trained and certified in a variety of professions.

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