Highway safety could be imperiled if programs and efforts to enforce regulations and improve truck safety don’t receive sufficient funding, the head of an association dedicated to truck safety enforcement says.
A three-day nationwide roadside inspection blitz in June showed trucking companies aren’t scrimping on safety, despite the recession, with truck and driver out-of-service rates close to the record lows reported in the same check last year.
The overall vehicle compliance rate was 80 percent, down from 80.4 percent in 2009, while the driver compliance rate stayed constant at 95.6 percent.
That’s good, but it still means one in five of the trucks inspected was placed out of service for offenses ranging from a broken light to brake defects.
More needs to be done to ensure the safety gains of recent years are maintained while accident, injury and fatality rates are driven down, said Stephen A. Keppler, interim executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
“We are having success, but if we’re serious about driving (highway) deaths down, we need to put money where things are working,” Keppler said. “It’s clear the roadside inspection program is saving lives.” He said roadside truck safety inspections save $5 billion a year by preventing crashes and deaths.
But with budget deficits forcing spending cuts at all levels of government, truck safety enforcement programs could face the chopping block. “It’s a real concern we have with the upcoming (surface transportation) reauthorization,” Keppler said.
The CVSA represents local, state and federal truck safety officials, and many of its members, especially police departments, are feeling the sting of budget cuts, Keppler said. “The states are in a major budget crisis. They’re not filling vacancies, they’re doing more work with fewer people, and they’re adjusting hours at their facilities,” he said.
On top of that, long-term success in driving down truck accident and fatality rates could lead to complacency among lawmakers and the public, Keppler said.
From 1988 to 2008, the number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes declined 22 percent, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
“Our concern is that we become complacent and don’t infuse the level of resources necessary to continue that trend,” Keppler said. “The American public has become too accepting of the fact that 40,000 people die on our roads every year.”
The number of truck and bus inspections conducted during the CVSA’s annual Roadcheck this year declined 10.2 percent to 65,327, Keppler said, but the number of inspectors performing checks increased slightly to more than 9,850. “That shows there’s still a strong commitment to safety even though times are tough,” he said.
The results of the June 8-10 inspections show a similar commitment by the trucking industry in the face of enormous cost pressure, he said.
Three-quarters of the inspections were North American Standard Level I inspections, the most comprehensive safety check. The compliance rates were 76.7 percent for vehicles and 96.3 percent for drivers, compared with 77.8 and 96.1 percent last year. Hazardous materials hauling trucks were compliant 83.7 percent of the time, compared with 83 percent in 2009.
Hazmat truck drivers stopped for inspection had a compliance rate of 97.5 percent.
The inspections did point to areas that need improvement and stronger enforcement, including brakes and driver hours of service. Brake-related defects continue to account for half of all vehicle out-of-service violations, while hours-of-service violations accounted for half of driver out-of-service orders.
“We’re seeing a shift” in brake inspection results, Keppler said. “Over the past five years, we’ve really hammered home the need for proper brake adjustment.” From 2005 through 2010, the percentage of Roadcheck out-of-service violations for improperly adjusted brakes dropped from 30.1 percent to 23.7 percent. However, brake system out-of-service rates increased from 25.2 to 27.1 percent in that period.
Despite that longer-term trend, out-of-service rates for both types of violations were down from a year ago, with out-of-service orders declining 16.5 percent for bad brake adjustment and 12.6 percent for braking system violations.
Driver hours-of-service violations also “are trending in the right direction,” Keppler said, dropping from 66.3 percent of the total in 2007 to 52.1 percent this year.
The number of drivers ordered out of service for hours-of-service violations dropped 9.9 percent from last year. However, there was an “uptick” in the number of false logbook violations from 430 to 508. That may reflect the fact that more inspections were held off-highway, closer to terminals and consignees, where more accidents take place and where truckers are more likely to run short of hours.
“It’s clear the (trucking) industry did their best,” Keppler said. “The key is they should do it throughout the year.”
Contact William B. Cassidy at email@example.com.