DUMFRIES, VA. Though it’s only 10 am, it’s plenty hot on the concrete safety inspection pad at the weigh station here along I-95 during the 19th Annual Roadcheck America, sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), and being held this year from June 6 to 8.
Master Trooper Greg Duvall, one of 36 inspectors from the Virginia State Patrol’s Motor Carrier Enforcement division working round-the-clock to support Roadcheck, is undeterred by the temperature as he starts going over Ricky Pinkston’s rig with a fine-toothed comb. As Pinkston, a driver from Atlanta, GA, for Van Buren, AR-based truckload carrier USA Truck, is hauling hazardous materials, Duvall will not only inspect Pinkston’s truck and trailer but his logbook, bill of lading and permits, and the cargo as well.
Thoroughness is one of the hallmarks of Virginia’s roadside inspection team, which is headed by state patrol veterans Lt. Herb Bridges and Sgt. Dave Feather. Back when the team was founded in 1978, Virginia’s Motor Carrier Enforcement used to put 80% of the trucks it inspected out of service, said Feather. Today, that number has fallen to roughly 20% – largely due to vast improvements in truck and trailer technology and by drivers being far more receptive to roadside inspections, he said.
“Drivers today recognize that this is just the cost of doing business in the trucking industry,” Feather told FleetOwner. “They realize the importance of safety much more than they used to.”
CVSA sponsors this 72-hour blitz of roadside inspections every year to underline the need to keep improving highway safety and to highlight important shifts in the kinds of inspections being conducted.
“Back before 9/11, 50% of all the inspections conducted were Level Ones [total vehicle and driver check], with Level Two [walkaround vehicle inspection only] and Level 3 [driver logbook/paperwork check only] making up the rest,” Steve Keppler, CVSA’s director of policy and programs, told FleetOwner.
“After September 11, we saw a big shift to driver inspections, so today, 30% of all inspections are Level Threes, with Level Ones running 30% and Level Twos 30%,” he noted.
Keppler added that CVSA hopes to top the 60,000 truck inspections conducted nationwide during last year’s Roadcheck with 10,000 inspectors working at 1,300 locations across the U.S. day and night in shifts for 72 hours straight. Virginia performed over 1,000 checks alone during Roadcheck ’05.
More roadside inspections are being done at “mobile” sites set up along major non-interstate highway truck routes to catch operators deliberately avoiding fixed inspection sites on the highways, said Lt. Bridges.
“About 70% of our inspections are mobile with the other 30% performed at our fixed sites at weight stations,” he told FleetOwner. “It’s a little more hairy inspecting trucks along the road this way. We have to make sure we don’t interrupt traffic flow too much and that we get the trucks far enough off the highway for the inspecting officer’s safety.”
Nationwide, roadside inspections are divided evenly between fixed sites and mobile locations. There are exceptions as states such as New York and Pennsylvania rely solely on mobile roadside inspections to monitor truck safety, said CVSA’s Keppler.
Lt. Bridges explained that his inspectors look for specific visual cues to help them determine which trucks need a good going-over.
“You see flat or damaged tires, cracked windshields, improperly secured or loose cargo; those are red flags,” he said. “We work at night a lot, too, as that’s when some of the bad operators think they can slip through. We also really check over the driver, too, as you’ll never know what you’ll find. For example, one of my troopers felt a driver’s CDL [commercial drivers license] didn’t look right – he did some digging and we ended up breaking open a CDL fraud case.”
From CVSA’s point of view, that’s what roadside inspections should be all about: focusing resources on “bad” operators.
“We’re inspecting three million trucks annually out of anywhere from 500 million to one billion truck trips on our roads every year,” said Keppler. “From our perspective, we want to focus on the high risk operator – the drivers obeying the regulations with equipment in good shape we don’t need to worry about.”
Back at the inspection pad in Dumfries, Trooper Duvall found one of those “good operators” in USA Truck’s Pinkston. After commenting on the neatness of his logbook, all his hazmat permits were found to be in good order, his truck and trailer were in great shape, and his cargo was properly secured.
Pinkston wasn’t surprised. “I’m always pretty calm about inspections,” he told FleetOwner. “You’ve got nothing to worry about if everything’s squared away like it should be.”