Most truckers’ hearts skip a beat when they see a cruiser’s flashing lights behind them, or an open scale house ahead of them. “Why did they pull me over?” is the first question that often comes to mind.
The answer can be more obvious than some people think.
“I try and find an offence on the vehicle before I pull it over,” says Acting Sergeant Marc Taraso of Ontario’s Halton Regional Police Service (HRPS). “Drivers have a job to do, and I don’t want to stop them for no reason. I want to stop vehicles I am likely to find defects on.”
When the lights, licence plates, decals and logo are clean, and conspicuity markings are present, it shows drivers care for the vehicle, Taraso, a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance-certified inspector, says.
“If I have to scrape grime off the looking glass on the wheel hubs to check the oil level, how did you check your hubs that day? It is a clear indication the pre-trip inspection was not done properly, if even at all.”
HRPS Constable Derek Andrews says if a truck looks like it could be unsafe, it likely is unsafe. “As the saying goes, ‘If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck … then it probably is a duck,’” he says.
Not every shine is a welcome sight, though. Another thing enforcement personnel seek out is chafed or severed air lines.
“We watch for a shiny edge on the catwalk at the back of the cab,” Andrews says. “It usually means air lines are dragging along the edge as the truck travels and bounces along the road. This could lead to a chafed or even cut air line, an out-of-service infraction.”
Even the sounds that a truck makes can alert an officer to a problem.
For example, HRPS Constable Daren Bonney was training another officer during a roadside stop when he heard an approaching dump truck making a strange sound. He followed the vehicle, noticed the outer passenger-side rear wheel flapping, and pulled it over. “The wheel fasteners were loose and about to come off. A disaster was prevented,” Bonney says.
Taraso notes that wheels are generally one of the most important components to monitor. “Eighteen small patches of rubber connect a massive truck to the road. If that small piece of rubber is not in good condition, there could be all sorts of complications.”
Tires should be replaced well before they reach the minimum tread threshold – 3mm for steers and 1.5mm for drives. But even there, he can spot signs of some problems at a distance, as trucks slide on snow or ice, or struggle to make it up a hill.
Clear snow from trailers
Drivers who want to avoid extra attention at a scale will also want to clear away any snow or slush that builds up on their equipment.
Taraso admits it can be tricky for a driver to clear off a trailer roof, but notes that it is their responsibility to do so. They should use snow clearing systems at yards before beginning trips, and companies should invest in them, he adds.
Drivers could also be charged with careless driving if the falling snow and ice damages another vehicle, he says. If someone is injured, the charges can expand to include careless driving causing bodily harm, along with charges for operating an unsafe motor vehicle.
The minimum fine starts at $1,000 for an unsafe vehicle and is higher for commercial motor vehicles. Fines can be in the thousands of dollars for careless driving causing bodily harm or careless driving causing death. “You could even get jail time for it,” Taraso warns.
Drivers and companies can even face civil lawsuits in which they could be held liable for millions of dollars in damages.
Inspect everything, even in cold weather
It isn’t the only inspection-related issue that emerges as temperatures drop. As the weather gets colder, some drivers tend to spend less time on pre-trip inspections, overlooking problems in the process.
“I find more brake defects because they do not want to crawl under trucks and trailers,” Taraso says.
And while some drivers assume a pre-trip inspection is something that only requires attention at the start of the day, Taraso sees it as a living document to be updated throughout a journey. Things that worked at the beginning of a trip may stop functioning before a new day begins.
It is a good idea to walk around the vehicle during breaks and note down defects, he says. That way, the officer knows the driver is aware of it.
No matter why a driver is pulled over for an inspection, though, Taraso says it helps if they are calm and compliant. Officers have a job to do. Being rude and belligerent is not going to help matters.
Being apologetic and remorseful rather than indifferent can make a difference as to whether a charge is ultimately laid.
“It comes down to our discretion to whether we believe the driver needs to be charged or just educated,” Taraso says.
That’s a lesson worth learning.
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