Or en route, as it were. There are plenty of ways, notes Landstar-leased owner-operator Gary Buchs, to avoid getting that roadside Level 3 or, worse yet, a citation for a moving violation such as speeding, even if you get stuck out in the left lane during a pass in a high-traffic, urban area.
Avoid drawing attention to yourself in any way whatsoever. In addition to such tried-and-true things like keeping the truck as buttoned-up as possible and catching obvious things on pre-trips like lights that have gone out, “there’s a way,” too, says Buchs, “to maneuver to the left lane and not draw attention to yourself.” If there’s congestion, “you may have to pass, but pass at a reasonable speed, or lower than the speed limit” or than the speed limit that conditions suggest. Should you get caught out in the left lane, ultimately, “don’t be afraid to put that right blinker back on to show that you are trying to get back in. – There are ways to navigate those urban areas using good space management. Don’t crowd people and draw attention to yourself. Look alert.”
If you are stopped… Contrary to road rumor, certified inspecting officers in most states are not in fact limited to probable-cause-type stops for inspections, meaning they don’t need a particular reason (such as a visible infraction) to stop you to inspect. In Indiana and Illinois, for instance, where the vast majority of inspections occur far from fixed facility like a weigh station, high-level representatives in the state police confirm that, contrary to what many believe, they aren’t limited by statute to probable-cause stops. At once, the nature of most mobile enforcement is targeted, meaning if there’s something visibly wrong with the truck (a light out, obviously slick tires, etc.) or a behavior that contravenes a traffic law, your odds of getting stopped just went up dramatically, particularly in states where mobile enforcement accounts for a majority of inspections.
Examine our newly updated CSA’s Data Trail site and full 48-state data download to identify state by state inspection, violation priorities.
1) Put on your four-ways to acknowledge the officer’s presence. Stay aware of surroundings and you’ll quickly see lights in the side view — key to starting off any roadside stop right. Inspecting state police trooper C.V. Barrett of North Carolina, in his “mock truck inspection” talk at the TCA Safety and Security Division annual meeting last month (find a gallery of photos at bottom), noted that when he turns on his overhead lights, he’s usually got a safe place for a truck to stop in mind up ahead. Lt. Lee Robertson of Georgia echoed the sentiment.
But if there is not good spot that you can easily or quickly identify, don’t just stop in the middle of the travel lane, both say. “I’ll follow somebody 2-3 miles down the road” without a problem, said Barrett, “if he clearly knows I’m back there.”
It’s not uncommon for Robertson, he said, after the initial stop, to instruct the driver to keep going to a better location that won’t impede traffic at all.
2) If the officer approaches on the passenger side … Most often, officers will approach the driver’s side of the vehicle for the initial encounter. If they don’t, notes owner-operator Buchs, and yell “Hey, unlock your door,” don’t unbuckle that seat belt to lean over and open the door for them. “Don’t leave the seat,” Buchs says, “stay in your seat and keep your seatbelt on, giving them an opportunity to verify that you’re buckled in. That’s an easy one to write up as a warning,” or a mark on an inspection report without an attendant citation that can be adjudicated in court. Your only option for such a situation is the FMCSA’s DataQs system for challenging violations, and without a time-stamped photograph of yourself wearing the seatbelt, it’s going to be difficult to submit evidence sufficient to overturn the violation.
Speaking of DataQs and warnings issued without citations, Buchs notes that he’s heard of several cases at the company where such a speeding warning was successfully challenged via the DataQs system. Key to making the challenge? Evidence presented from an electronic-logging-device system that also reads and records operational data — including speed. “They pulled data out to show location and speed” at the time of the stop, he says. “They’ve reversed speeding violations that way. Landstar said, ‘Without that, there’s no way it would have been reversed,’ as there would have been no proof rather than word of mouth,” the classic he-said, she-said dilemma.
In states I’ve talked to you in recent years, the vast majority leave enforcement action up to the discretion of the officer (Oregon is a notable exception).
Buchs’ own decision to opt in to Landstar’s ELD program, with the basic Omnitracs unit, was based on concerns over risk management. “I view it somewhat like insurance. If something goes wrong, I have about proof about as good [as is possible] of what I actually had been doing – it’s about the most definitive source I could get.”
3) Always keep paperwork and emergency equipment handy. North Carolina’s Barrett emphasized this in his talk. The driver should be able in “15-20 seconds to produce it,” he said. “If not, my mind starts clicking. I’ll look a little more closely at everything else,” including the initial check for the fire extinguisher and triangles.
4) Stay alert, attentive, professional throughout the inspection. This — in addition to No. 3, for that matter — goes for whether it’s a roadside stop or a trip through a Level 1 at a weigh station, the latter many of you are likely to see this week during the Tuesday-Thursday Roadcheck blitz.
Put simply, “Take pride in your stuff,” in the words of C.V. Barrett, and it will pay dividends.
Buchs works with the state of Illinois helping teach safety classes on driving safely around big trucks and other topics. Because of that, “I gained perspective on some inspection-related things,” he says. “A year ago September I spent a whole week [with state reps] and had officers help me with my demonstration. On a personal side, and I don’t want to sound like an apologist, this was my impression: I was pretty amazed at their personal conviction for safety and for, well, being fair to the truck drivers. Their attitude was a lot different than the perception that you read and hear talk about on the radio.”
One officer relayed an anecdote about an inspection conducted in the Chicago region, Buchs notes, “a tough area for quality of trucks. He told me about how he stopped a truck he’d seen many times on the road. There were about 10 items that needed attention. I don’t remember if there were any out-of-service items. It was about three months later, then, they had a pedestrian walk out onto the thoroughfare and committed suicide with this man’s truck.”
The trooper then comes up on the scene and recognizes the truck. “I was praying that he got those things fixed,” he said, as paraphrased by Buchs. “If he has not gotten those things fixed, it will be horrible” for him, with potential for lawsuits, though the case was fairly clear.
Fortunately, the repairs were in order.
“I don’t get inspected a lot” in his 2000 Freightliner Century, says Buchs. “I keep it clean, I dress with a collared shirt, keep eye contact. I make sure they know I know they’re there. If you ignore them, they’re going to think, ‘Man, this guy’s a zombie.’ I don’t get stopped and inspected a lot, but when I do, and if they find something, I feel like that guy who [had someone step] out in front of the truck. They’ve prevented something far worse from happening.
“That’s how I personally manage the emotion/business side of an inspection. That second set of eyes sees things that we look at a dozen times and miss.”