What truckers know about driving on highways this weekend might hurt you

What truckers know about driving on highways this weekend might hurt you

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June 12, 2016 – dallasnews.com – Drivers hitting the road this weekend could face some of the most dangerous driving days of the year.

Friday is the first day after the 29th annual International Roadcheck, a concerted effort by authorities across North America to inspect as many commercial vehicles as possible to ensure they comply with federal safety standards.

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But the inspections aren’t exactly random, Fort Worth attorney Steve Laird says. Commercial drivers are notified three months in advance of the road checks. This allows drivers to prepare for the inspections or dodge them altogether.

“What other company or industry would not love a three-month advance notice that inspectors were coming?” said Laird, who specializes in representing people injured in accidents with commercial vehicles.

The practice has become so commonplace that drivers taking time off during the inspections are said to be on “roadcheck vacations,” which Laird said are unsurprisingly three of the safest days on the road. Some publications made for drivers openly discuss the “vacations.”

“The more observant among readers over the years have routinely remarked that law enforcement’s telegraphing of the event with announcements months ahead of time may dampen its impact,” said an April 2015 post on Overdrive, a magazine for truckers. “Good week to take a little well-deserved R&R for many truckers, such that that’s possible.”

Laird said the three days following the International Roadcheck, which took place Tuesday through Thursday, are so dangerous because once the road-check period is over, many of the drivers are looking to make up income lost during their three days off. When the drivers are back on the road, they may try to “push the envelope” by driving more than they’re legally allowed in trucks that may not comply with safety regulations.

“These are inherently unsafe practices that needlessly endanger the public,” Laird said.

Robert Mills, a Fort Worth police officer in the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit, said the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, the group responsible for organizing International Roadcheck, knows full well that drivers avoid the road checks. But the alliance wants to give law enforcement agencies time to prepare to follow the inspection guidelines and record their findings so that the data can be tracked over time.

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2004 Fort Worth Police Officer Robert Mills fastens the seat belt for truck driver Roger Alvin Auxter before he’s taken to the Tarrant County Jail on Sunday after 79 illegal immigrants were found in the trailer of his Dallas-bound 18-wheeler during a traffic stop. Auxter was held on a criminal complaint of illegally transporting immigrants into the country.

“They know the numbers are probably lower because some drivers avoid the road checks,” Mills said. “But the data is still useful to gauge how the industry is doing in terms of safety.”

Mills said most of the drivers who do dodge the inspections and then try to make up for lost time are likely to be owner-operator drivers who record their drive time manually, because drivers with major trucking companies keep automated electronic records of their drive time.

Owner-operator drivers make up 80 percent of the industry, according to Laird.

During the inspections, authorities inspect the vehicle’s brakes, tires and lights, in addition to the driver’s license and log book, which records how long the driver has been on the road.

According to data from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, police across the country conducted almost 70,000 random inspections in 2015. Almost 22 percent of the vehicles inspected were issued out-of-service violations, which made it illegal to operate them. Those were the lowest rates since the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance started recording data in 1991.

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An additional 15 percent of inspected vehicles had issues securing cargo in compliance with federal safety regulations.

“Even with the notice, the numbers are absolutely unbelievable,” Laird said.

In Texas alone, about 8,000 inspections were conducted, and the percentage of vehicles that failed, 22 percent, matched the nationwide figure, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety. Additionally, 212 drivers were placed out of service for violations like driving over the maximum hours allowed or not having the proper license to operate their vehicles.

According to the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety organization, 4,000 people are killed and 100,000 people are injured on average every year from accidents with “large trucks” like 18-wheelers. Laird said Texas makes up a large percentage of those accidents based on the amount of commercial drivers and everyday motorists in Texas.

Mills said his unit conducts several unannounced road-check days throughout the year. In 2015, Fort Worth police conducted 1,184 roadside inspections, and 20 percent of vehicles were issued out-of-service tickets. But that number can climb to 25 or 30 percent for construction vehicles, which operate under more stressful conditions.

Laird said he thinks the best way to cut down on road-check vacations and improve safety on Texas roads is for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance to stop notifying drivers three months in advance that there will be an increased frequency in inspections.

Barring that, he said, three 24-hour periods of increased inspections spread over the year will be more effective than one 72-hour period, because it will make it more difficult for drivers to avoid road checks. He acknowledged that neither of the measures “would solve everything.

“But it would help with compliance and increase the incentives for the industry to follow the regulations,” Laird said.
 
Credit dallasnews.com, tulsaworld.com

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