Time to prepare: The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance's 30th annual International Roadcheck, billed as the largest targeted enforcement program on commercial motor vehicles in the world, takes place June 6-8. The special emphasis this year is cargo securement. To avoid surprises, we've got some insider tips from a long-time inspector - and some driver thoughts about those tips.
After a long career in law enforcement, including 11 years inspecting trucks, Andy Blair now operates DOT Checkups, a York, Pennsylvania company that fleets hire to inspect their trucks before they hit the road. He conducts 300 to 400 inspections of all levels every year.
A tidy cab can often mean 'move along.' "I can't inspect every truck that comes my way so I have to use my discretion and experience. Certainly, I look at your BASIC scores, and maybe you've got a light out "that's a no-brainer" but beyond that I look inside the truck. I realize that some guys are on the road quite a bit. I get that. And some of them, to a degree, live in their truck or certainly spend a fair amount of time in it. But when I see what looks like a pigsty on the inside of the truck, my thoughts are 'that's how this guy is going to maintain his truck,' assuming he's the operator. Even if he's not, it may be an indication of how well he keeps after the company to fix things. I'm not talking a couple items of trash or a McDonald's bag laying around. We're not expecting that Mr. Clean just came by and visited you. I'm talking about something that looks bad and smells bad. We're talking some heavy disarray, not just something thrown in a corner. So, right away I'm thinking, 'Okay, I get it. This guy really doesn't keep after things too well.' The chances of me finding something wrong with the truck are probably better."
- "I gotta live in it, so I keep the inside clean. I don't worry so much about the outside. Unless maybe you're a flatbedder, there's no reason to look like you've been under the truck, unless you've had to be under the truck."
- "The only thing I keep on my dash is a red coffee cup in the corner so I can pick my truck out in the company parking lot. No reason to clutter it up."
- "I don?t think they care if it's neat. They're looking to see if you've got a handgun."
Make your documents easy for me to inspect. "I've stopped you, I've pulled you in, and I've made a quick assessment of what you truck looks like. I'm now asking for your documents. If you're one of those guys that just can't find your stuff, or you're handing me papers from 2009, 2010 and 2011, then you know what? Pull it in; you're going to be here for a while. Probably the best presentations that I see are when the driver takes the time to put the documents in something like a ring binder - medical card, registration, all that. It makes it easier to look through. If it's a rainy day, I don't have to worry about dropping them and the wind blowing it away. It just keeps it neater and cleaner, and it looks good. If so, you may be on your way. I stopped a lot of trucks and I didn't inspect every one of them. If a guy looked like his truck was in good shape and his documents looked good, too, then chances of me going further were diminished."
- "I keep my paperwork neat. You're just going to sit there longer if it's not in order or if they can't read it."
- "I think [inspectors] are automatically suspicious of logbooks now, so it needs to be neat. Everybody should know to keep their documents handy, or you're asking for a hassle."
- "Electronic logs have made this so much easier at the roadside. The tradeoff is you've got no wiggle room if you're 20 or 30 minutes out when the clock's up. I'm still trying to decide if it's worth it."
Copping an attitude
Attitude counts. "It's totally my discretion as an officer who I pick to inspect. Don't do or say anything to volunteer yourself [for an inspection] by doing dumb stuff. I don't want to hear: 'What'd ya stop me for? I didn't do anything wrong.' If you can do anything to mitigate the chances or likelihood of being held up and inspected, it's probably worth your time to do that, even if you don't feel like it. At this point, I've looked in your cab, checked your documents, and seen how you handle yourself and how you answer my questions. Right now, I'm going to make my decision: throw you back in the pond or reel you in."
- "To me, most of the people that get an attitude know they've got a problem somewhere and they don't want to get caught. If you know you ain't got a problem, just get it over with. It's a necessary evil."
- "I've been doing this long enough to see right off when the inspector is the one with the attitude. But I've also learned that it doesn't pay to point that out."
- "You know how to get out of a long talk with an inspector? Act like you've got pneumonia."
I don't have a quota for citations, but I have a quota for inspections. "Even if you look good, I still may inspect your truck, because I need to get some inspections done. There are never any requirements to write a ticket, but there are requirements to do a minimum number of inspections [per quarter] to keep my credentials current. There are times that you may have a great truck and you have all your documents and the inspector still says, 'We're doing a level one. That's just how it goes."
- "If they say they don't have a quota for tickets they're lying."
- "If they bring you in for no reason other than the cop or his computer says it's somebody's random turn, then something's wrong. The point is to recognize the guys with obvious problems. Otherwise, why all this CSA database bull?"
- "They won't admit it, but I've been pulled in because they know the company runs good trucks. It's a quickie for them to meet their quota. Everybody's done and gone and everybody's happy."
If you're chosen for inspection, grit your teeth and go through it with some grace. If you've got a good truck, you might get an 'atta-boy' as I like to call it. The more you cooperate with the officer, the better you'll get through the inspection, because the officer has the full discretion to write, or not to write, and to cite you or cite the company. It's not etched in stone, but usually the equipment stuff I would write to the company. The pre-trip stuff, I would cite to the driver. Once I've decided that we're going through with an inspection, I ask 'is there anything wrong with your truck today that you know from your pre-trip inspection?' If the answer is 'no, I'll say, 'Good for you. I'm going to do your pre-trip again.' I've had owner-operators who, when I asked for their fire extinguisher and triangles, didn't know where they were. Some triangles would be missing or the fire extinguishers would be covered with dirt and discharged. On the other hand, every driver that told me right up front, "I did my pre-trip today and I found this and this wrong," I've never written a citation. I might write the company but I didn't write the driver. I understand that between the terminal and the inspection area a light can go out, and so I don't get all that excited. But you can't tell me that you left the terminal 80 miles ago and that your tire went completely smooth in 80 miles."
- "I don't need any 'atta-boy.' You better give me a [gosh-darn] clean inspection report."
- "I was pulled over in Mississippi three times, guess it was just my lucky day. But I was cordial and they were cordial and that was that."
- "Warning tickets really [make me mad]. It's still on your record but you can't fight it. If you're going to give me a ticket, give me a ticket so I can fight it."
No excuses. If you're from Texas and obviously proud of it, you're going to get pulled in.
Okay, that last one was just made up.
But in summary, Blair says: "A lot of this is common sense. If the truck looks half decent, if the driver is prepared, if they have their documents, if they have everything ready to go, and they're decent about it, have a good attitude - even if they're gritting their teeth - they reduce the likelihood and chances of the officer going further. I can't say it prohibits it, but you have a better chance of not being held up and getting on your way faster."