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Making the most of a roadside inspection

By on July 2, 2013

It was one of those early evenings made for trucking. The sky was clear blue. The air was crisp. My dispatch was an eight-hour round trip drop and hook. No fingerprinting freight for a change. The only thing missing was the smell of diesel exhaust in the air. You longtime truckers know what I’m talking about.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for clean air. However, there’s just something about the scent of diesel exhaust that takes me back to the good old days of trucking when things were simpler — less technology, fewer regulations, not as much traffic, no such thing as road rage, lots of shifting, arm-strong steering (that’s no power steering for you “youngsters”) and plenty of cabovers.

About an hour into my trip, a flashing roadside sign directed all trucks into a rest area. A roadside inspection, I assumed, and I was correct. No worries, though. The company I was driving for keeps its trucks well-maintained, and I keep up with my required paperwork.

I’m all for on-the-spot safety check-ups. They help enforce motor carrier safety laws and promote highway safety. Furthermore, they help reduce commercial vehicle-related incidents by removing unsafe trucks, unsafe loads and unqualified drivers from the highway.

So I waited as the line of trucks slowly moved by several inspectors. When I got up to them, one of the inspectors told me to pull into a parking space and shut the engine off. There goes my fine evening of trucking, I figured, pondering why he flagged me.

Asked and answered

The inspector walked over and told me he was going to conduct a U.S. DOT Level II inspection. Seeing the puzzled look on my face, he informed me that this is a procedure that covers only those items that can be inspected without an inspector physically getting under the vehicle.

“Lucky me,” I said with a smile.

He warned me not to be a smart aleck and informed me that I was indeed fortunate as he could do a Level I inspection. That, he enlightened me, is the most comprehensive of the DOT vehicle inspections and includes an examination of compliance with the critical elements of both driver and vehicle regulations. “And we always find an issue or two,” he said sternly.

As I shadowed him while he went about his work, I struck up a conversation. The inspector was a nice enough guy and didn’t seem to mind my peppering him with questions.

I learned that the most common vehicle maintenance violations cited during roadside inspections are brake problems, defective lighting, tire tread depths that are too low, oil and/or grease leaks and no proof of an annual vehicle inspection.

As for Hours of Service regulations, the inspector said the most common violations have to do with “form and manner.” Basically, these occur when entries made to the logbook are missing information, are incomplete or are filled out improperly.

Healthy skepticism

Completing his inspection, he asked to see my driver’s license and medical card. He took them over to his van and got on his computer to, I assume, check those credentials. He then made a call on his cellphone. That had me concerned.

Finishing his phone call, he walked back over to me and returned my cards. “Why the phone call?” I asked hesitantly. Just checking to make sure your driver medical card is valid, he replied.

Under a new enforcement initiative by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, federal, state and local safety inspectors are conducting random verifications of medical examiner certificates to crack down on fraudulent medical cards. In addition to asking to see a driver’s medical card, law enforcement can contact the medical examiner’s office at the telephone number on the card to confirm that the information on it matches the records maintained by the medical examiner.

I’m happy to report everything was in order with me and my rig. I thanked the inspector and he thanked me back for taking the inspection in stride.

“You’d be surprised how many truckers develop an attitude when they get popped for an inspection,” he said. “While keeping a commercial vehicle well maintained is very important, so is a driver’s attitude. How drivers conduct themselves will have a big impact on how the inspection turns out.”

Good advice, to be sure.

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