Cpl. Donte Vincent keeps his eyes on the trucks moving over the scales at the I-20 station near Anniston, Ala. He’s scanning trucks to make sure there is no reason to pull them over.
“Of course, some of the newer trucks and trailers are going to pass most of the inspection, but I don’t really pick trucks out because they’re older or dirtier or independent or company-owned,” Vincent says. “Some of the older trucks are in just as good or better shape because they’ve been taken care of.”
Most of the 3,000 trucks that pass daily through the Anniston station do just that – pass on through. However, earlier this year that station and others took a more intensive approach for the annual Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance International Roadcheck. Last year, the sweep involved 45,000 inspections in 72 hours.
In addition to the International Roadcheck, CVSA, an alliance of mostly government officials involved with truck and bus inspections, also organizes Operation Air Brake. This program educates truckers about the importance of brake safety by having random brake inspections three times a year – one announced (Sept. 5 in 2002) and two unannounced.
In the 19 years the CVSA has been around, funding from the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program has gone from $8 million to $165 million; the number of states qualified to do inspections has risen from 12 to 50.
All those inspections seem to be helping. Since 1979, when truck crash fatalities were at an all-time high, such fatalities have declined 22 percent overall – 50 percent among tractor-trailer occupants and 10 percent among passenger vehicle occupants, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
In most cases, enforcement officials and truckers have a healthy respect for each other’s perspective.
“We realize inspections are an inconvenience, but we both have our jobs to do,” says Sgt. Eric Adair of the New York State Police.
Donald Chapman of Wiggins, Miss., appreciates what the inspectors do. “There are a lot of trucks out there that are not up to safety standards, and they’re running wide open,” says Wiggins, who has been driving for 12 years.
Adair says he has never experienced any difficulty with drivers during inspections. “I treat them the way I would like to be treated, and I think they give me the same respect,” he says.
As long as you’re not doing something illegal, inspectors say, you stand a good chance of avoiding a random inspection.
“I usually look for trucks that are making unsafe lane changes and speeding,” says Adair, a truck inspector for 15 years. New York has no fixed inspection stations; all its inspections are done on the road, sometimes randomly. “When we finish inspecting one truck, we’ll pull in the next one that goes by,” Adair says.
In roadside inspections, Vincent tends to look for a reason to stop a truck, such as expired tags, a low tire or reckless driving, but he does pick some out randomly.
“One of the main things I look for is load securement,” says Vincent, a trooper for 13 years. “If there’s anything that’s loose or that could come off the truck and cause a wreck or injure someone, then I’ll stop them, but for the most part we don’t stop a truck unless we see a reason to stop it.”
Following the rules doesn’t guarantee you won’t get stopped for an inspection in Alabama, even though the state has a reputation for being lenient on trucks. “The other day we were training inspectors, and we did 23 inspections in a day,” Vincent says. “We don’t want truckers to think they can just speed through our state without getting stopped.”
Since Sept. 11, New York’s inspectors have paid even more attention to hazmat loads, especially securement. “We don’t inspect every hazmat load we stop, but we check to make sure they’re legitimate,” Adair says.
Hazmat hauler Randy Scully of Green Cove Springs, Fla., has been inspected six times in his four years of driving. “I think they do a great job,” says Scully, who is leased to Rancho Trucking of Sumner, Wash. “You never know when they’re going to get you.”
Some truckers have driven for years without an inspection. John Young of Greenbrier, Ark., says he’s only been inspected once in his four years of driving.
“I think annual inspections would be better than just randomly picking trucks off the road,” Young says. “I understand they serve a purpose, but I wouldn’t want to be stopped more often. I know my truck is taken care of.” Young’s company, Robert Downey Moving & Storage, pays for annual inspections at a certified shop.
Albert McClendon of Crystal Springs, Miss., says he has been inspected a few times in his 17-year career, but not in the past few years. “I understand they have a job to do, but I’d be mad if I got inspected more often,” says McClendon, a company driver for Vernon Sawyer.
Olin Hill of Charleston, S.C., has been driving for 10 years and figures he’s been stopped about once a year. Once he was stopped on a back road. “I was a little overweight,” Hill says, “and the guy told me we could do this one of two ways – either he could bring out the scales, or we could take it to a local garage and get my brakes fixed.”
The occasional crooked official aside, truck inspectors say they are not primarily running a revenue stream for the government. “If we’re out there to generate money, why would we write tickets for only about a third of the violations we see?” Adair says. “Of course we’ll write tickets for the most serious violations, but on a lot of equipment violations, we’ll give a notice of correction form, where they can get it fixed and not pay a fine. We’d rather see the company spend money on making the truck safe, not paying a fine.”
To read a PDF of an abbreviated version of the out-of-service criteria click here. To order the complete Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Out-Of-Service Criteria Handbook for $22 plus $5 shipping and handling, send a request to CVSA Headquarters at 5430 Grosvenor Lane, Suite 130, Bethesda, MD 20814, fax number (301) 564-0588, phone (301) 564-1623, e-mail email@example.com.
LEVELS OF INSPECTIONS
North American Standard: A 37-step inspection that includes examination of driver’s license, hours of service, brake system, coupling devices, exhaust system, frame, fuel system, turn signals, brake lamps, tail lamps, head lamps, load securement, steering mechanism, suspension, tires, trailer bodies, wheels, rims and windshield wipers.
Walk-Around Driver and Vehicle: A walk-around driver/vehicle inspection that includes most of Level 1 items and doesn’t require physically getting under the vehicle.
Driver-Only: Inspection that includes examination of the driver’s license, hours of service and vehicle inspection report.
Special: Inspection that includes a one-time examination of a particular item. Normally done to support a study or verify a suspected trend.
Vehicle-Only: Inspection that includes each of the vehicle inspection items specified under Level I without a driver present.
Enhanced Inspection for Radioactive Shipments: For select radiological shipments. Includes inspection procedures from Level 1, radiological requirements and enhanced out-of-service criteria.