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InnovationModesNewsOptimizing Fleet ComplianceTrucking

How to turn frightful roadside inspections into positive interactions

Time spent alone in the cab and long hours traveling barren highways have been known to play tricks on truck drivers’ minds. Visions of things that aren’t really there, ghosts tormenting the driver, and hitchhikers that just disappear are among the more common supernatural sightings drivers claim.

As much as drivers would like to think roadside law enforcement are also visions that go away, they are not. And the lasting impacts of the interactions are enough to scare any professional driver, perhaps away for good. But the experience doesn’t have to be a fright fest for drivers. With proper training, that roadside inspection might more closely resemble a meeting with Casper the Friendly Ghost than the famous Bell Witch of Tennessee.

Despite this, though, truckers continue to create their own horrors when it comes to the tall tales they tell. From the driver that doesn’t know his “trusted” mechanic’s name, to the driver who required 60 miles and over an hour to move his truck out of the driveway so his wife could go to work, roadside inspectors have heard it all. Even stories of drivers that travel for miles on the side of the road at speeds of less than 5 miles per hour so as not to trigger the clock on the electronic logging device (ELD).

The excuses, though, only ensure the drivers’ encounter with enforcement more closely resembles a meeting with the Bell Witch, rather than Casper. Casper lets the driver go on his or her way; the Bell Witch makes the driver sit on the side of the road for 10 hours with an out-of-service violation. Scary indeed.

Driver training

To ensure drivers interact with Casper, fleets can help by stepping up training programs. Left to their own devices, drivers can come up with some crazy excuses to justify their hours-of-service (HOS) violations. The improper use of personal conveyance (PC) is a big area of concern for drivers, and what led one driver to offer up the trusted mechanic story.

A Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) enforcement officer relayed the story of a driver he encountered who was using PC to reach his preferred mechanic to fix his rig. That mechanic just happened to be located between his pickup and delivery locations.

“The driver had traveled more than 150 miles and through two major cities with factory- supported repair facilities to get to ‘his’ mechanic, whose name he didn’t know,” the officer said. “When informed that off-duty PC wasn’t allowed to go for repairs or to violate hours of service, he stated, ‘Hell, it was worth a shot.’”

While PC can be used in certain situations – the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) lists seven reasons to use it – PC couldn’t be used in this case. PC can’t be used to “move a load closer to where it needs to be” or to “reposition a CMV or transport it to a maintenance facility.”

According to Mark Schedler, a transportation editor at J.J. Keller, personal conveyance needs to be used correctly, as mistakes result in a 7-point falsification violation that counts as 21 Compliance, Safety, Accountability points against the carrier for the first six months after the violation. It’s also easy to misunderstand PC, he noted, pointing out that driving a truck to the garage for repairs on a Saturday is not a PC move since the reason for moving the truck is to benefit the business. Likewise, relocating the truck from one location to another so you are better positioned to pick up a load the next day is also not proper use of personal conveyance. But, taking a trip to the grocery store likely would qualify as PC.

PC is an example of where fleets can step up training, ensuring that drivers understand what is and what is not an acceptable use of the exemption. Developing clear and concise company policies and communicating those to drivers is a key.

ELDs help … to a point

The introduction of ELDs was supposed to help eliminate violations, and in many cases, they have. In 2018, the number of HOS violations such as “logs not current,” “log form & manner,” 14-hour, and 30-minute break violations, were all cut at least in half. Still, 60% of all roadside inspections in 2018 resulted in at least one violation, many of them driver-related. Of 3.4 million driver inspections, 993,000 violations were recorded, and 187,800 out-of-service orders were issued.

Top driver violations included speeding, driving without a valid medical certificate, failing to use a seat belt, and operating without a CDL. Violations related to HOS and ELD compliance also abound, comprising 16 of the top 25 spots. And each of the top 25 driver violations could be prevented through more attention to detail, following current regulations and traffic laws, and enhanced and consistent training.

Some drivers, like the one that drove 350 miles while “off-duty,” may need more than training. In that case, the driver switched his status to off-duty because he thought he had figured out how to “fool” the system, he told the roadside inspector. Most drivers, though, are not that brazen. Violations are more often the result of misunderstanding the regulations.

Violations such as having no record of duty status, failing to provide the proper supporting documents, or not knowing how to transfer data from the ELD device to enforcement personnel, are common violations easily addressed through proper training.

Conduct mock inspections

The roadside inspection process itself can be a scary proposition, especially if the driver is subjected to a 37-step Level 1 inspection. It’s kind of like an IRS audit – you know they are likely to find something wrong, you just hope it doesn’t land you in jail. Schedler said one way to help ease the minds of drivers, and get through the process with minimal issues, is to make mock inspections part of the driver training process.

During this “trial run,” walk the driver through the proper techniques, ensure they know how to transfer ELD data, review what documents they must have in the vehicle or on their person, and ensure they know how to answer common questions officers will ask. Of course, review all relevant procedures, including the pre-trip inspection process to ensure drivers know how to spot problems before the inspector does.

According to the CVSA, when it comes to ELD-related inspections, roadside inspectors will be looking for and confirming the following information:

• Verification that the ELD is registered with FMCSA, either by going to the FMCSA list or retrieving the ELD data during the file transfer.

• Verification the device is integrally synchronized with the CMV.

• Ensure the device can display the RODS for the last seven days, plus the current day.

• Each CMV with an ELD installed must have onboard an information packet containing an instruction sheet describing, in detail, how data may be stored and retrieved from the recording system.

• The onboard information may be any electronic device (including the ELD) or hard copies.

• Each CMV must also have a supply of blank driver’s RODS graph-grids sufficient to record the driver’s duty status and other related information for a minimum of eight days.

• The driver can demonstrate the use of the device.

• The ELD can display or print a copy of the driver’s RODS at the time of the inspection

Train on the regulations

It’s also important, and should go without saying, that drivers and fleets need to understand the HOS and ELD regulations. Using regulatory specialists can help fleets and drivers maintain compliance with these and other regulations. J.J. Keller, for instance, provides services that ensure everyone remains aware of any changes in the law and stays in compliance. The company can also help set up proper training and continuing education programs that cover deficiencies drivers have in relation to the regulations. This includes dispatch, and even sales, which can unwittingly put drivers in difficult spots by scheduling too strictly or promising the impossible just to close the sale.

Most driver-related violations are preventable, but fleets must take the lead in ensuring drivers are properly trained on the regulations and proper procedures, especially when it comes to the use of ELDs and proper application of exemptions, such as personal conveyance and off-duty time.

In the event that a violation is issued in error, the FMCSA encourages drivers and carriers to challenge the incorrect violation via a Request for Data Review (RDR) in their DataQs account or via the carrier’s FMCSA portal. J.J. Keller offers a service to assist drivers and carriers with filing these RDRs and are over 70% successful in their challenges on behalf of customers.

Taking these proactive steps ensures a driver’s next interaction with roadside enforcement personnel will be with Casper the Friendly Ghost.

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Brian Straight

Brian Straight covers general transportation news and leads the editorial team as Managing Editor. A journalism graduate of the University of Rhode Island, he has covered everything from a presidential election, to professional sports and Little League baseball, and for more than 10 years has covered trucking and logistics. Before joining FreightWaves, he was previously responsible for the editorial quality and production of Fleet Owner magazine and fleetowner.com. Brian lives in Connecticut with his wife and two kids and spends his time coaching his son’s baseball team, golfing with his daughter, and pursuing his never-ending quest to become a professional bowler.
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