Not in Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood

By Randy Grider
[email protected]

Armed with only a camcorder and determination, Allen Robinson is a man on a mission.

The 44-year-old Parkesburg, Pa., trucker is hoping to make a change in the way enforcement officers are conducting roadside safety inspections along rural Route 41 in Pennsylvania. His quest has already been a costly one – a citation and fine for harassment and an arrest on the same charge for filming what he calls “unsafe” safety inspections.

His saga began in 2000 while he was traveling in his personal vehicle along a stretch of Route 41 known for heavy commercial truck traffic. (PennDOT has labeled the road one of five “heavy truck crash corridors” in the state.) Robinson says he topped the hill to find the 40-foot wide spots on each side of the two-lane road filled with trucks and enforcement officers. A car stopped in front of him was waiting to turn into a driveway blocked by one of the trucks pulled over for the inspection.

Behind him was a four-wheeler passing a tractor-trailer just before the road quickly goes from three lanes back to two lanes. Because there was no signage announcing a safety inspection, the vehicles behind him had to slam on the brakes to avoid the chaotic bottleneck in front of them.

Fortunately, all the vehicles managed to stop, but the incident was the last straw for the 18-year over-the-road owner-operator with an accident-free record, who decided if something wasn’t done, sooner or later someone was going to get killed.

He called his state representative for help. Rep. Art Hershey suggested he document the unsafe practice by the enforcement officers. He also warned Robinson not to interfere with the officers and to get the permission of the landowner where he would be filming.

In June of 2000, Robinson took action and began filming a similar roadside inspection. Despite filming on private property with the permission of the landowner, he was cited for harassment and found guilty by a local court.

Then in October 2002, Robinson again found himself on the “wrong” side of the law while filming another roadside inspection that he says had earlier nearly caused his wife, a bus driver, to crash with 62 kids on board. This time he was approached by three officers who demanded he shut off the camera on the count of three. Robinson says because he was on private property, and 30 feet off the road, he refused. He says he was tackled, arrested and charged for a second time with harassment. His camera was also confiscated.

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For the second time, Robinson, who now drives locally, was found guilty by a county court. But wiser this time, and with a lawyer assisting him, he appealed to the state court (something he didn’t know procedurally how to do in the first case) and was found not guilty after the judge reviewed the film.

But Robinson is far from through. He has filed a federal lawsuit against the three officers for malicious prosecution, false arrest, using excessive force and violating his First Amendment rights.

Robinson also is working to get a law passed to prevent roadside inspections from being conducted in unsafe places. He says his proposal would include three provisions: inspections must be conducted at least 100 feet off the roadway, signage must warn motorists they are approaching a safety inspection in progress and law enforcement officers conducting safety inspections must wear florescent clothing.

“I’m not against law officers getting unsafe trucks off the road,” Robinson says, “but I am against unsafe inspections. They need to use common sense.”

What makes this case even more interesting is that there is a municipal scale house 10 miles away in New Garden. Even though the PennDOT would have to make arrangements to use it, it would seem to be a much better solution than creating unsafe conditions for the entire motoring public.

This whole matter flies in the face of what these officers are sworn to do – protect and serve the public. Kudos to Mr. Robinson for his courage and the dogged determination to do the right thing, the lawful and smart way.