State trooper confidential: What to know about roadside inspections

May 24, 2017
On June 6-8, the annual Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) Roadcheck will take place nationwide.

When drivers look in their rear view mirror and spot a state patrol vehicle, they probably imagine potential scenarios that could take place. The road ahead diverges in two ways: the patrol officer could simply drive by or, in the scenario most drivers dread, the red and blue lights turn on and the officer pulls them over for a violation and/or a roadside inspection.

On June 6-8, the annual Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) Roadcheck will take place nationwide. Commercial drivers on the road can expect to get checked on 37 points including documentation, brake systems, suspensions, etc. Nearly 17 trucks or buses are inspected each minute in North America during this time each year and over its 30 year history, more than 1.5 million roadside inspections have taken place during these campaigns. While it’s important to make sure vehicles are ready to be inspected this week, drivers should always be prepared for on-the-spot safety checks especially since they can happen nearly anywhere, anytime along their routes.  

I would know. For over 25 years, I was a Washington State Patrol officer and commanded a commercial vehicle enforcement division. Over the span of my career I oversaw thousands of inspections and while some drivers may consider the process an annoyance, it’s meant to protect both them and others on the road. It’s a preventative measure that could save not only costs, but also (and most importantly) lives.

The good news is roadside inspections don’t have to be a pain and drivers can get through them fairly quickly. As long as they keep a few things in mind before they get behind the wheel of their vehicle, a proper inspection can save drivers and fleet managers a lot of grief in the long run.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years that can help make the CVSA Roadcheck program and your next inspection far less of a burden.

Appearances Matter

While the old adage states that you should never judge a book by its cover, the truth is a visual scan can tell a trooper quite a bit about the state of a vehicle. Most inspections are at discretion and if the outside of a truck and the cab is clear and everything seems to be in good working order, then the natural assumption is that a driver is responsible enough to look after his vehicle. Drivers should make sure their lights are working, their tires aren’t damaged and their cargo is secured. Of course, a driver doesn’t have to break out the Windex or keep everything spotless but knowing where their documents are goes a long way in getting through an inspection quickly.

Be Aware of Common Pitfalls

Remember the number five. There are five common levels of inspection and five common violations that can take a vehicle off the road. Knowing what each list entails can save a driver and fleet manager money and time dealing with repairs and lost miles.

The five levels of inspection are:

  1. Level One is the most common and comprehensive inspection. This includes a thorough vehicle and paperwork review. Only a Level One inspection will give you an inspection sticker.
  2. Level Two inspections are similar to Level One but do not require the inspector to get under the vehicle.
  3. Level Three is an in-depth inspection of paperwork.
  4. Level Four is the inspection of a particular feature, like brakes.
  5. Level Five is an inspection that takes place at the carrier.

The five most common violation areas are:

  1. Brakes out of adjustment
  2. Other brake problems
  3. Lights
  4. Tires and Wheels
  5. Cargo Load Securement

Drivers should go through each level of inspection and make sure all items and features within each level are ready for a close examination. Knowing what the most common violations are can help drivers focus on crucial features and help them stay on the road.  One way to make inspections easier in general is to use a solution that electronically collects and verifies inspection, compliance and maintenance data.

Note:  CMVs transporting radioactive materials have an additional level of inspection. Learn more at CVSA.

Remember Your Paperwork

Going digital can help save time and paperwork but, in the short run, some paperwork will still be a part of life for drivers even while on the road. Drivers should keep a checklist of paperwork they’ll need while on the road and stay on top of expiration dates by scheduling necessary renewals in advance. Required documentation includes:

  • Log book (For those who are still dragging their feet in getting an ELD-ready device)
  • Commercial Driver’s License
  • Medical Certificate (including waivers)
  • Proof of periodic inspection documentation
  • All load-related paperwork including Bill of Lading, Emergency Response Information (For Hazmat shipments)

The last rule is simple: Be Professional

Just like you, troopers and inspectors are just doing their job when they conduct a roadside inspection. Their main goal is to make sure everyone on the road stays safe. Acting in a defensive or combative manner can prolong the inspection and lead to schedule interruptions and fines. Of course, if you are involved in a conflict with your inspector, try your best to stay calm and contact your supervisor to avoid escalating an issue.

These may all seem like commonsense but keep in mind that last year there was $217 million in lost revenue due to violations found during roadside inspections. Also, with an increase of fines this year, it’s imperative to stay on top of all the elements that can lead to violations, unnecessary downtime and small issues that can lead to potentially massive repairs. 

About the Author

Fred Fakkema | Vice President of Compliance

Fred is currently Vice President of Compliance for Zonar, where he leads product development to meet the compliance needs of customers today and tomorrow. Throughout 2014-16, Fred has been deeply involved in the ELD (electronic logging devices) mandate, from the policy level down to the compliance level for Zonar’s mobile telematics tablet.

Prior to joining Zonar in 2010, enjoyed a successful a 25-year career with the Washington State Patrol (WSP). During his career, he commanded the WSP Academy, Government and Relations Division and the Commercial Vehicle Division. He is the Past President for the Washington Chapter, FBI National Academy Associates. Fred is a member of the American Trucking Association (ATA) Safety Policy Committee and earned his Master’s Degree in Public Administration from the University of Washington.

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