One of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road traveling alongside 18-wheelers, buses and other big rigs is drawing near, although a majority of drivers will never realize the risks because they were never warned.
As we noted here last year, the annual International Roadcheck program is set to take place June 7-9 across the U.S. and all of North America as part of a joint effort organized by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). During Roadcheck, more than 10,000 CVSA-certified inspectors from the local, state and federal level participate in the 72-hour program that includes roadside inspections of more than 70,000 semis and other heavy trucks.
As happens every year, the trucking industry already is telling companies and drivers about the three-day window, which will allow many of them to limit their hours or stay off the road entirely in order to avoid inspections. Once Roadcheck is over, expect to see many more tractor-trailers on the highway, including those whose drivers may be looking to make up for lost time that was spent waiting on the mandatory inspections to conclude.
Of the nearly 70,000 individual Roadcheck inspections conducted last year, more than 1,600 drivers were ticketed for out-of-service (OSS) violations for working longer than allowed by law and for failing to maintain proper time records that show how long it had been since they last had rest or sleep. Both violations can lead to fatigued driving, which police say causes more than 100,000 highway accidents every year. The 2015 Roadcheck also found OSS violations in nearly 22 percent of tested trucks (roughly 9,700 vehicles) that required them to be removed from the road.
As predicted, the number of violations was lower last year than the year prior, which could mean a couple of different things. Hopefully it means that trucking companies and drivers are doing a better job of obeying the law and playing by the rules. However, with the advance notice providing the opportunity for “Roadcheck vacations” (as they are called in the industry), last year’s improved numbers may fail to account for unsafe trucks and drivers who purposely avoided inspection.
The smart way to approach Roadcheck as an average motorist is to be particularly careful on the highway in the days and weeks following the inspection period when many drivers return to the road. That means everyone should be on high alert beginning Friday, June 10, through the weekend and at least the following week. Although not every big rig you see will have safety problems and not all of the drivers will be unqualified or improperly licensed, knowing about Roadcheck and taking the proper precautions will protect you and your family.
As an example of what happens when safety inspections are not announced months ahead of time, we can look to a recent inspection blitz conducted in Maryland by state police, environmental regulators and local police departments. The one-day effort included inspections of more than 400 vehicles, primarily tractor-trailers and semis, and the results were flatly scary. In the end, more than 25 percent of the inspected vehicles were ordered off the highway for having tires that could not pass inspection or other violations. One big rig was found to be more than 12 tons overweight, and a total of 115 traffic citations were issued in addition to 251 warnings. Those are some terrible numbers.