Operation Air Brake

by James Menzies and, Katy de Vries

CANADA – Sept. 4 marked the sixth annual announced Operation Air Brake inspection in North America.

The annual inspection originated because air brake violations were the most significant and frequent violations discovered during full random roadside inspections performed during Roadcheck, said Chris Davies, Ministry of Transportation of Ontario (MTO) enforcement officer for Hamilton/Niagara District.

Truck News took the opportunity to hit the scales in Alberta and Ontario, to check out the scene and chat with inspectors and the drivers themselves.

Out in Oakville, Ont. the Queen Elizabeth Way corridor sees between 15-18,000 commercial vehicles each day, and Operation Air Brake’s intent was to randomly pull some of those vehicles into the scales for inspections.

“We usually have a crew of four to five officers here doing the inspections and for a routine Level 4 inspection, we would probably each get through a dozen or so, in our 12 hour shift,” said Jaclyn Bush, an MTO enforcement officer for Halton District.

But sometimes, during the routine 25-minute Level 4 air brake inspection, the officer sees problems or suspects there are bigger safety risks with the vehicle, which means they will perform a full Level 1 inspection, said Bush.

This requires the inspector to examine all mechanical components of the vehicle and generally takes about 45 minutes to complete.

If bigger problems are found, the officer can refuse to complete the inspection until the problems are fixed right on site, or where the mechanical failures are too large to be fixed on site, the vehicle will have to be towed and fines can be laid to either the driver, the company or both.

In one case, Officer Bush said she pulled one truck into the scales and began to inspect its air brake system, when she realized the trailer brakes’ air line had been blocked off with a pair of vice grips and the system had been disengaged because it hadn’t been working properly instead of being repaired.

Not only does this mean that the driver was on the road with unsafe equipment, but he knew about it too, and was on his way to pick up his next load, which is far worse, said Davies.

“Not everyone leaves here with a ticket. Sometimes they will leave knowing more about their truck and the maintenance of it. It is just as much an education program as it is an enforcement program, which is why we distribute air brake adjustment literature to the drivers during our inspections.”

Another case at the Oakville, Ont. scales saw a truck that needed to get its front brakes repaired on site. In this case, oil was leaking onto the brake linings of the front wheels, which means there was no friction when the driver applied the brakes so the brakes were dysfunctional.

“In most cases inspections are routine and drivers are co-operative, but there are still some trucks out on the road that shouldn’t be and that is why we are here,” said Davies.

Driver Mike Lipinski, of DTC Denice Transportation in Ancaster, Ont., was pulled over for his first random inspection in his nine years on the road, but was happy to become a statistic.

“We definitely do our own inspections and we always make sure our equipment is functional and in order before we leave the lot,” said Lipinski. “I think there should be more random inspections, they should be done all the time because it is a safety issue and our families are out there sharing the road with us so safety is important.”

MTO enforcement officer for Halton District Jim Fenton performed the routine Level 4 mechanical inspection on Lipinski’s truck and deemed all systems were a go.

“As an inspection officer, you get to know the carriers and you get to know what to expect from their equipment, and this was a prime example of that, everything was in top-notch condition,” said Fenton.

Davies said that after the Ontario Road Safety Annual Report (ORSAR), released in February 2003, reported Ontario’s roads were the safest in North America, the MTO established that it was their goal to make Ontario’s roads the safest in the world.

“We’re building on that now, and it’s great to be able to contribute to that goal and have an immediate impact on the safety of our roads, and that is what Operation Air Brake is all about,” said Davies.

Alberta inspections

In Alberta, the Dunmore scale just outside Medicine Hat was home to Operation Air Brake. Just 50 kilometres from the Saskatchewan border, both Alberta and Saskatchewan CVSA inspectors were on-hand to perform random Level 4 inspections on trucks.

Andy Barnes, direct supervisor with Inspection Services, said he expected the crew to inspect about 100 units before the day was out.

“We’re probably going to do somewhere around 100 and I would expect the failure rate is going to be very low,” he said.

By noon, several vehicles had already been placed out-of-service, but the majority passed the inspection and were allowed to continue on their way.

Barnes said the Dunmore inspection staff enjoys a good working relationship with its counterpart in Saskatchewan.

“It’s actually really good,” he said. “Their officers are appointed as peace officers in Alberta. Maybe next time we’ll do it in Swift Current and we’ll send some guys over there.”

For the most part, inspectors were simply looking for air brake deficiencies.

But they wouldn’t turn a blind eye to other obvious defects, such as a broken leaf spring for instance, Barnes said.

“Obviously we wouldn’t ignore it, but that’s not what we’re looking for right now,” he said. Sometimes it’s hard not to notice though.

“It’s like tracking a bleeding elephant through a field of white snow. It’s pretty difficult to miss,” said Barnes.

While Truck News was on-hand, the average inspection took between 10 and 15 minutes when conducted by a pair of CVSA inspectors.

Keeping the vehicles moving through the system is an important consideration for the inspectors.

“We always put a start time and an end time (on the form) because that is one of our biggest complaints,” said Barnes. “People say they’ve been held up at the scale for two hours and that’s just not true.”

He has an unorthodox theory on how to put an end to the misinformation.

“If we got rid of all the coffee shops that would end all the complaints,” he said, noting that’s where most of the rumours begin and then gain steam.

Ayr Motor Express driver, Julian Studd, had no problem parking his truck for 11 minutes for a Level 4 inspection.

In fact, the Vernon, B.C.-based driver would like to see more of them.

“I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “I began driving back in the ’70s and I remember what happened back then. If you told your boss there was a problem he’d say ‘piss on it’ and either you would go or they’d find someone else to go.”

Studd doesn’t like the fact Operation Air Brake is so well-publicized because he says the real bad apples just park their trucks for the day.

“They should be doing this 24-hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “These sporadic checks that everyone knows about ahead of time are really not doing it.”

He insisted his opinion wouldn’t change even if his own truck was placed out-of-service.

“I’m not a mechanic – I can only do a visual inspection. If you find something wrong, I want to know about it,” he said.

The local Class 8 repair shop in Medicine Hat was probably the biggest benefactor of the blitz.

Dave Grexton, a mechanic with Gas City Mechanical, finished up a two-hour impromptu brake job and took a lunch break before beginning the next in what was expected to be a full day of on-site mechanical work.

At $60 per hour plus kilometres ($90 per hour after regular business hours), it’s little wonder Operation Air Brake is a much-anticipated event for the shop. Grexton says the most common parts needing replacement were air hoses, u-bolts, and seals.

“I’ll be back,” he said with a grin before hopping in his truck.

Operation Air Brake is a safety campaign that is sponsored by CVSA and includes participation form the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators, the Federal Motor Carrier Sa
fety Administration and Transport Canada.

For more information on Operation Air Brake, visit www.cvsa.org

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