Commercial truck drivers are often considered the first line of defense against accidents and mechanical failures. Drivers take many precautions to avoid vehicle inspection failures. However, eliminating violations altogether may require an extra set of eyes from the motor carrier itself to monitor each truck.
Therefore, the motor carriers have an equally important job to perform, and it is more than just fleet safety managers relying solely on drivers to report any and all equipment malfunctions and safety hazards that could result in a vehicle inspection failure.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires every commercial motor vehicle (CMV) be inspected at least once every 12 months by a qualified inspector.
Flunking an inspection could render the truck out of service in addition to adding points to the carrier’s CSA BASICs score. Commercial truck insurers take these scores into consideration when calculating premiums so motor carriers shouldn’t take vehicle inspections lightly.
The FMCSA reported that 2.4 million CMVs fell victim to roadside inspections in 2018. Law enforcement officers recorded a total of 3.9 million vehicle violations, rendering 755,000 trucks out-of-service.
Passing a vehicle inspection requires a tag-team effort by both the driver and the motor carrier. While most drivers do what they can to inspect aspects such as the engine, tires, lighting devices, wheel fasteners and frames, hidden safety risks may be lurking under the truck evading the eyes of even the most diligent drivers.
“Drivers aren’t likely to get underneath the vehicle to check for contaminated brake linings and chafed air hoses inside the frame,” said Kerri Wirachowsky, Director of Roadside Inspection Program for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). “The problem that I often see is that drivers don’t know what they’re looking for when doing proper trip inspections.”
The FMCSA requires drivers to perform both pre and post-shift inspections to ensure their trucks are safe to operate. Post-trip inspections are usually more rigorous and require drivers to submit a written report on the vehicle after every shift. During post-trip inspections, drivers should alert their manager if their truck is found to be subject to any safety hazards addressed in Appendix G of the FMCSA regulations.
Most of the industry’s drivers take great precaution with pre and post-trip inspections, but mistakes can be missed. Wirachowsky recommends that fleets do additional maintenance inspections, whether monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or mileage-based.
Hiring inspectors or additional technicians to analyze the ins and outs of each truck can shine a light on unseen issues. However, inspection violations will continue to plague your fleet if technicians and drivers don’t know what to look for.
Since 2018, the CVSA offers roadside inspection training courses to help members of the motor carrier industry – including fleet managers, owner-operators, drivers, technicians and vendors – achieve compliance with roadside safety regulations and learn the relationship between regulatory violations and out-of-service conditions.
Wirachowsky noted that industry leaders often find the regulatory language of the FMCSA confusing, which can lead many to misinterpret its rulings.
For example, motor carriers are responsible for maintaining everything listed in Part 393 of the FMCSA’s regulations. These lengthy regulations instruct fleets to inspect and properly maintain items such as fuel systems, wiring, brake components, air pressure and vacuum gauges among other safety-related components.
“If the industry is unfamiliar with Part 393, things can get overlooked,” Wirachowsky said. “Unfortunately if they get overlooked and the truck is found to be in violation of the regulations, the motor carrier will get written up for it.”
Truck technology has greatly improved over the decades with the introduction of devices such as automatic slack adjusters and air disc brakes. While these devices have certainly raised the industry’s record of safety, Wirachowsky warns motor carriers not to be complacent with upkeep.
Wirachowsky said that improved safety mechanisms often lead motor carriers to have a false sense of security by believing its “state-of-the-art” devices can afford to skip a few maintenance checks and inspections here and there. The costs associated with reactive maintenance far outweighs the price to perform routine preventative maintenance.
“If you’re going to wait to make repairs until the day you get caught, you will have to fix the problems at roadside, be cited on an inspection report, possibly be ticketed and it will cost you CSA points against your profile, especially if you’re placed out-of-service,” Wirachowsky said. “That has an impact on every aspect of your business including its insurance.”