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Roadside inspections: Making the grade

Tips for passing roadside inspections

More than 3.5 million truck inspections occur annually across North America, and in 2018, more than half of the roadside inspections resulted in a violation being discovered.

Those within the trucking industry and law enforcement said that staying organized, conducting pre- and post-trip inspections, and ensuring regular maintenance can streamline the inspection process and minimize the risk of a violation.

“If you’re operating a safe vehicle and being safe, you’re going to be compliant. If you’re not, you’re going to get fined and cited, and there will be issues down the road,” said Fred Fakkema, vice president of compliance at Zonar Systems.

During a roadside inspection, inspectors review drivers’ record-of-duty status, trip documents, and the condition of the vehicle. Lights, brakes,  and operating without proof of a periodic inspection made up the top three vehicle violations during 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration reported.

For drivers, the top three violations were record-of-duty status violation (general form and manner), speeding, and failing to use a seat belt.

Kerri Wirachowsky, director of the roadside inspection program for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Administration (CVSA), said inspectors typically start by collecting documents, including the commercial driver’s license, medical examiner certificate, vehicle registration, record-of-duty status, bill of lading, and trip receipts.

The process is easier if all of the paperwork is in order and current.

“When you hand over documents, make sure you’re not carrying around five or six expired insurance cards or registrations,” Wirachowsky said.

With the mandatory use of electronic logging devices, inspectors are seeing see fewer log violations.

“Those were violations that were just plain driver error,” she said.

However, ELDs have brought new challenges, and drivers need to be sure they know what type of device they have and how to work it, she explained. Because there are hundreds of devices on the market, it is impossible for inspectors to know how to work them all.  

Michael Forman, southern region commander for the enforcement division of the Mississippi Dept. of Transportation, said it is crucial that drivers have their ELD user manuals.

“Between me and the driver, we can figure out how to transfer data to my laptop and unit,” he said.

When it comes to equipment, the standard Level I inspection looks at 16 critical items as well as a long list of non-critical items.

CVSA said it focuses on brakes, coupling devices, fuel and exhaust systems, frames in van and open-top trailers, lighting, securement of cargo, steering, suspension, and tire wheels and rims.

Forman said the first things officers typically notice are lights, especially if the officers are working a patrol unit.

“You’ll be behind him when pulling him over,” he said. “The lights are the most obvious thing at first glance.”

Inspectors often rely on technology to help them identify problems.

Brian Wofford, vice president of government experience for Drivewyze and Intelligent Imaging Systems, said the combined information provides a quick snapshot for officers.

“Law enforcement can use that as part of their decision on whether or not to pull that truck,” he said.

Lee Sarratt, director of safety for J.B. Hunt, said the fleet installed bypass technology from Drivewyze, which has created time savings.

“Without a bypass, you’re going to have to pull in, and you’re going to get less green lights on the highway,” he said.

Zonar’s Fakkema, who spent 25 years with the Washington State Patrol, said the sheer number of trucks on the road necessitates selective enforcement.

“You don’t want to spend as much time with the good ones. It is the bad ones you want to spend time with,” he said.  “The states only have so many officers and time.”

Homer Hogg, director of technical service for TravelCenters of America, said brake stroke is typically the number one reason that vehicles are placed out of service.

“This could be an indication that brake stroke is not being checked regularly or not being checked properly,” he said.

An appropriate way to check brake stroke is by using the applied stroke method.

“This means that the air pressure should be 90 to 100 psi. Then make a brake application and measure the travel of the slack adjusters,” Hogg said, adding that automatic slack adjusters must not be adjusted if they are not in brake stroke specifications.

“This likely means there is a mechanical defect that must be identified and corrected,” he said.

Scott Dewey, FedEx Freight’s manager of safety process and compliance, said the fleet focuses on the importance of proper vehicle inspections.

“By performing a proper vehicle inspection, drivers will be confident in the safety of their equipment for themselves as well as other drivers,” he said.

During the recent 2019 Roadcheck enforcement blitz, inspectors placed an emphasis on steering and suspension systems.

When examining those systems, Hogg said drivers should check ball joints and tie rods and ensure they’re tight.

“Check the steering gearbox for leaks and confirm that all steering gear mounting hardware is tight and secure,” he said. “You should also make sure the pitman arm pinch bolt and nut are tight, with no signs of looseness,” he said.

There should also be no visible fluid leaks anywhere in the steering system, and drivers should take a thorough look at suspension components, such as U-bolts, airbags and mounting, springs, and all suspension-mounting hardware.

“Be sure to listen for any air leaks in the air ride suspension system,” Hogg said.

Dave Covington, chief technology officer for Noregon, said thorough maintenance could prevent problems out on the road. Noregon’s in-shop diagnostic and repair solution, JPRO, gives technicians a holistic view of the vehicle to diagnose all components.

Understanding which issues are affecting various sub-components on the vehicle makes it is easier for technicians to locate the root cause of problems while also fixing additional problems that could create future issues.

“In many cases, if a problem on a truck goes unchecked, it can become a more costly issue to fix,” Covington said.  

What’s more, real-time fleet management solutions can empower fleets to find issues that may be symptomless or go undetected by the driver. Noregon’s TripVision alerts users to problems on the vehicle that could affect safety or performance, or cause a CSA violation, Covington said.

“Your maintenance practices, combining in-shop and over-the-road technology, should leave you confident you can navigate a roadside inspection without concern,” he explained.  

 

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