Compared to its neighboring state to the north, Virginia might seem like an inspection slouch. Maryland, No. 1 in Overdrive’s inspection-intensity rankings of inspection volume per mile of roadway, conducts almost four times the number of annual inspections. Virginia ranks toward the middle of the national pack at No. 21 for inspection intensity.
But a closer look at Virginia reveals a profile similar to its northern brethren near the top of the violations-per-inspection rankings. Virginia’s 66 dedicated enforcement personnel are laser-focused on vehicle violations, particularly those involving braking systems, and they’re not shy about issuing them.
“Our guys knock out a lot of Level 1 inspections,” says Lt. Ron Maxey of the Virginia State Police, lead officer over the truck inspection program. Level 1 is the highest and most complete inspection level of both the truck and driver.
Maxey reveals something of an old-school approach that de-emphasizes newfangled technology such as the performance-based brake testers (PBBTs) used in Georgia, Tennessee and elsewhere in the Southeast. Instead, Virginia inspectors are “inside a pit or on their backs on a creeper measuring those brakes,” Maxey says.
However, the state has increased its use of infrared imaging systems in screening trucks for inspection at its fixed facilities, he says. The so-called “IRIS” systems make it easier to identify cold or overheated brakes that indicate potential mechanical problems, and they also provide a possible explanation for a marked rise in Virginia’s percentage of brake violations found since 2011. The state conducted 43 percent of its 2014 inspections at fixed facilities.
Dedicated full time to truck enforcement are 66 state police troopers, all certified for the highest levels under the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance protocol. Another “25 troopers are Level 2-certified so that they can conduct basic [walkaround and driver] inspections out on the road,” Maxey says. “If you’re going to get underneath the truck and check the brakes, we want it to be your full-time job and be sure that you’re not going to miss something.”
A close look at violation numbers suggests they don’t miss much. Virginia ranks fourth for its high level of 2.83 violations issued for every inspection conducted in 2014, falling behind only Connecticut, Wisconsin and Texas. The latter two, like Virginia, show a top 10 placement in maintenance violations. Only Texas, however, is in the top 10 for its percentage of brake violations.
A third of Virginia’s 2014-issued violations, about one for every inspection conducted, were related to braking systems. In the brake-violations rankings, based on a measure of brake violations as a share of states’ total issued violations, Virginia is 26 percent ahead of its closest contender, Missouri.
Maxey emphasizes that, as in other states, the division is doing what it can to shift priorities to traffic enforcement to roll back crashes, which is commensurate with national safety goals. Still, he contends the strong focus on brakes is in line with the department’s enforcement philosophy – a bedrock concern for mitigation of compromised safety.
It’s no accident that the 66-man unit of the state police dedicated to truck enforcement is called the “Motor Carrier Safety Unit,” he says. “Safety, rather than enforcement – we really get out there and do the education part, too. If we can get the buy-in from [both industry and] the general public about the danger of their own actions,” giving talks not only at CDL training centers, but also often at teen driving schools about the problems four-wheelers create, Maxey believes, “they’ll all police themselves.”