As I write this, it’s exactly one week since the end of our annual North American June safety blitz, Roadcheck. I’ve yet to hear any results and I don’t care, because frankly, they’re irrelevant.
If you want an accurate, realistic viewpoint of the condition of the industry – and the people and equipment that form it – I think you need to look elsewhere.
I wasn’t invited into a scale this spring. I drove past a few though, and wasn’t at all surprised by what I saw. What I saw was predictable.
There’s one statistic that we’re never shown, and never will be, because I doubt it’s even recorded. Likely some of you have seen the same thing; an apparent lack of vehicles from the large trucking companies being inspected at roadside.
They aren’t completely ignored, but they sure won’t be the first to be inspected. It would appear that the consensus among many enforcement officers is that the larger fleets will have newer and possibly better maintained equipment. I would dispute that. The maintenance standards often quoted by the service managers of large fleets makes me cringe. You go how long between maintenance inspections? Is my twice-monthly cycle excessive? This lack of inspection consistency is strike one for the accuracy of blitzes.
Strike two comes from the ‘performance pressure’ instilled in officers. I doubt their supervisors, or the general media, would be very pleased if they reported a blitz where very few vehicles or drivers failed.
As we know there are always a few – and thankfully they are few – who refuse to inspect any commercial vehicle without reporting some kind of fault, no matter how petty.
During a blitz, even the best, most professional officers could potentially be pressured into being guilty of this. The CVSA handbook offers far too many ‘infractions’ to utilize in the case there are no legitimate faults found, such as one I’ve recently been told of: if a tire in a dual wheel assembly is 15 lbs or greater different in pressure than the tire beside it, you’re out of service.
Or, a gravel stone lying on the deck after jiggling out of the floorboard joints is ‘insecure cargo.’ You get the idea. I think that realistically, if an inspector has conducted a ‘by the book’ inspection, and found nothing, the truck should be free to go.
If the inspection requires two or three visits to the handbook, along with multiple repeat trips under the truck for another look, I think the process has lost its integrity. Last year, I read a Truck News interview with a fleet manager who felt that any new devices being tested needed to be done without the driver being aware of it. If the driver knew his stats were being watched, he would drive differently and skew the test results. I can’t imagine the same thing doesn’t happen with safety inspectors. They are, of course, human.
Strike three is for the number of drivers or owner/operators who use the three-day blitzes twice annually as a prime time to get major repairs or to take holidays. I think very few of these people have equipment they’re concerned won’t pass inspection; they just don’t need the aggravation of accumulating CVOR points for something as minor as the above-mentioned slack tire or gravel stone. The penalties and repercussions of any infraction are long reaching and potentially expensive.
The flip side to this is that the odds of being inspected are only microscopically higher during the blitz than any other time. But these blitzes are so over-advertised and trumped up, that some drivers spend three days in unnecessary fear, which leaves fewer trucks on the road that week – another statistic that is obviously never recorded.
Strike four is the potential unprofessional or inexperienced behaviour of certain inspection officers. Although rare, it still exists.
A few years ago during a blitz, I was pulled into a Maryland scale, 20 minutes from my destination just a few minutes past midnight.
The young officer, just starting his shift, looked at my logbook, closed it, and told me to leave because “It’s too early for the aggravation of trying to read a Canadian logbook.”
Strike five is the theme of this spring’s blitz. One of the target items was load securement. Several printed quotes from enforcement personnel told us that flatbedders should be expected to be targeted. Why? Kind of a lazy attitude, isn’t it? Just because our freight is often exposed, doesn’t mean we should be a bigger target.
Those of us who sling straps and chains daily are often horrified at some dry van loads. There seems to be a false feeling of security attained simply by swinging doors shut, even though the freight might be staying in place solely thanks to the forces of good luck and gravity. One sudden turn or stop, and everything moves, yet I rarely see van or reefer doors opened during safety inspections. This would give more realistic statistics with a side benefit of actually improving safety, wouldn’t it?
During the Roadcheck week, I had a friend suggest a sensible alternative to blitzes. Are we all concerned with highway safety? Of course. So, let’s change our current annual mandatory vehicle inspections to twice annually, and forget the blitzes. It’s all in the name of safety, something no carrier is against, right?
Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation, a flatdeck trucking company. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.