In June, truckers around the country experienced the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Roadcheck 2001 – a three-day period of Level 1 roadside inspections, compliance reviews and distribution of educational materials. I spent one of those days witnessing the work at the inspection point on I-80 West in Delaware Water Gap, Pa.
From the beginning, I knew this would not be a slow day. Gerald Clark, a supervisor in the Motor Carrier Enforcement Division of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, had informed me that aggressive inspections have been taking place at this point for some months because of high out-of-service rates and frequent accidents just to the west. On June 5, nearly all trucks passing through had significant problems, so few CVSA stickers were handed out. But despite the problems, inspectors and drivers treated each other with respect, and few citations were issued.
During a brief break in the action, Trooper Stephen Zellner of the Pennsylvania State Police discussed some fine points of keeping weights legal. There’s a 3 percent tolerance in weighing, so many fleets overload by 3 percent or more to take advantage of it. But the tolerance is there to allow for inherent inaccuracies in portable scales, not for legal carriage. Often, the trooper can prove the truck was actually over 82,400 pounds (the weight limit plus the 2,400-pound tolerance), and the carrier gets fined.
Other fleets might keep the gross combination weight under the 80,000-pound limit, but fail to distribute the weight properly and draw citations for having one or more axles over the limit. It’s also quite easy to get flagged for:
- A combination of weight and axle spacing that fails to meet the bridge formula;
- Weight that is excessive only because the tires are not rated adequately for the GCW or axle weight; or
- Weight that is within equipment limits but exceeds the weight limits on the registration.
On June 5, Trooper Zellner found one “Oversize Load” sign questionable. The Pennsylvania vehicle code, not CVSA criteria, applied in this situation, although Pennsylvania supports CVSA in a big way. CVSA criteria don’t mention oversize-load sign lettering requirements in detail.
The last inspection I watched that day was of an early-1980s White bobtail tractor. Four of the six brakes were significantly past the adjustment limit. It had possible fuel leaks, and the driver’s logbook was nowhere near up to date. But the driver told Zellner he had just become an owner-operator and really wanted to learn how to operate safely. He acted as if he had all day to get inspected and to learn, and he listened intently to everything the trooper told him.
Zellner first showed him how to update his log. Then he searched to see if there was a significant fuel leak, while I helped the driver adjust his brakes. Soon, all the brakes were legal and Zellner had assured himself that, even though some of the lines were damp, there was no significant fuel leakage. Though he could have cited the trucker, the trooper sent him on his way – wiser but no poorer.
The largest lesson, for me, was that many troopers really are willing to take time to educate truckers interested in safe operations and are willing to make roadside checks a positive experience. Truckers just need to give them time to do their jobs.
John Baxter is senior associate editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail jbaxter@eTrucker.com.