Roadcheck inspection blitzes begin as organizers ponder overhaul

TORONTO (June 1) — Provincial motor carrier enforcement officials kick off their annual Roadcheck roadside inspection blitz today — or is it International Highway Transportation Week?

Truck safety regulators in Canada are weighing whether to change the focus of Roadcheck next year from the current 72-hour random roadside enforcement regime to a week-long public safety-education campaign with less emphasis on inspections. A decision is expected this fall.

The effort would mirror how Roadcheck has evolved in the United States. Rather than concentrating all inspections during the same 72-hour period, states set their own inspection schedules during the first full work-week in June, designated International Highway Transportation Week.

The Canadian jurisdictions are discussing a plan that would concentrate inspections during a 48-hour period, leaving the rest of the week to offer whatever each province sees fit. However, there are concerns that reducing the time for inspections could be construed as a softening on safety enforcement.

“An inspection element will be important no matter what we do,” said Peter Hurst, director of compliance at Saskatchewan Transportation & Highways and president of the Canadian region of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which oversees the event. “It’s helpful for us to be able to gather data that may influence our enforcement tactics the other 362 days of the year, and it raises the profile of our work.

“As an enforcement tool, however, we need to look at that 72-hour window critically. It’s an advertised blitz, yet the results receive a great deal of scrutiny and are often used to gauge the safety record of all trucks on the road. Sometimes more is made of those results than is deserved.”

Indeed, cynics say the exercise mainly produces headlines that play on the fears of the motoring public.

“Most accidents are caused by driver error, that is, the error of the automobile driver. We may be better served if we can use part of that time to teach people how to safely share the road with heavy trucks,” Hurst said. “Let’s include the motorist in the safety equation.”

That would be a good start, said Ian Savage of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.

Savage and researcher Leon Moses studied the safety records of 19,965 motor carriers that had been audited by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation in 1991 or 1992 and had had at least one truck pulled over for a roadside inspection during the same time period. Comparing carriers’ out-of-service rates during a roadside inspection with the number of accidents those carriers were involved in, Savage and Moses found that the accident rates are not much higher than those carriers with few out-of-service violations during roadside inspections.

“I think Roadcheck is a public relations event for the enforcement community and little else, because it fails to change the behavior of trucking firms,” Savage said. “A P.R. event is fine, as long as there are no illusions that Roadcheck is anything else.”

The real enforcement effort, he explained, should involve facility audits of motor carriers that have both a poor out-of-service rate at the roadside and an unsatisfactory carrier profile.

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