How are trucks inspected to help ensure safety on our highways?
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On this most recent episode of The Legal Bench, we hear trucking safety and inspections through the eyes of a South Carolina State Transport Police officer. Collins & Lacy attorney and member of the firm’s trucking and transportation practice group, Charles Kinney, talks with Corporal Matthew Goff.
Michael Burney: Welcome to The Legal Bench. I’m Michael Burney, Director of Business Development at Collins and Lacy Law Firm in Columbia, South Carolina. Today we’ll hear about trucking safety and inspections through the eyes of a South Carolina state transport police officer. With me to introduce our special guest is Charles Kinney. Charles is an attorney and a member of the trucking and transportation practice group here at Collins and Lacy. Charles, tell us about our guest.
Charles Kinney: Thank you Mike. Working for 20 years in public safety service for our state, Corporal Matthew Goff has been with the South Carolina State Transport Police for the past 8 years. He is a certified NAS inspector in Parts A & B for motor coach, hazmat and tankers. Today we’re going to talk trucking safety and inspections. Corporal Goff, welcome to The Legal Bench.
Corporal Goff: Thank you sir, appreciate it.
CK: To start off, can you just tell us a little bit what does the state transport police do?
CG: Our mission on the South Carolina highways is to ensure public safety as far as the traveling general public around commercial motor vehicles.
CK: Walk us through the top three levels of inspection.
CG: For the most part, most of our truckers are going to see a Level 3 to a Level 2 inspection. Level 3 is basically your driver’s inspection, your traffic-related/non-traffic related, but it also have to do with log books and inspections as far as the driver make sure he’s qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle, CDL, medical type vehicles, etc. That goes into a vast majority of your inspections is the Level 3. A Level 2 is a step up from that where we actually call “go around and kick the tires” check the lugnuts, do everything outside the truck itself. Can have some aspect as far as inside the cab as well. Most of those occur during our Level 1, which is our full inspection. Level 1 will take you under the hood, tires, lugnuts, etc. Takes you underneath the truck itself, checking brakes of course, axles, CV joints, anything of that nature is actually the full inspection of a commercial motor vehicle and its driver.
CK: What are the most common types of violations that you find?
CG: There’s a wide variety of them. But for the most part what most of our truck drivers would occur or what we would normally see is tires, brakes, minor logbook violations, and lights on the vehicle. They get greater than that but for the most part most of the time those are the items that we see most on inspections.
CK: Are there any emerging trends in violations that you’ve seen recently?
CG: Unfortunately yes, and most of them occur in the traffic related side of it. Following too closely, we’ve seen a lot of that, a lot of speeding, and unfortunately, we’ve seen a lot of left to center. This means any time you’re on a two-lane highway and that truck and/or car are crossing lines they’re causing a collision. For the most part we don’t see as many of them as we have to actually work the scene, but they are occurring. We have vides from drivers showing that, etc. that they’re going on a two lane road minding their own business, car merges over the left lane, we can all probably guess what they’re doing-texting while driving or talking on the cell phone-something that’s distraction-oriented into that truck driver’s lane, so that’s mostly what we’ve been seeing.
CK: And for the state transport police, how does the officer determine which level of inspection is going to be used?
CG: That’s a good question. And that’s a question I do get asked a lot in safety presentations. So, everybody knows STP in general, which is State Transport Police, we have the authority to stop a truck for absolutely nothing. What we call a random inspection and we have to do so many random inspections a year. But for the most part we’re most the time going to find or see something before we stop that truck. We do understand that driver and that trucking company has a product they have to get delivered at a certain time and we want them to get that delivered but sometimes we have to do that random inspection. The best thing I can tell you is to make sure your drivers in general, the companies in general, are doing their pre-trip inspections. That’s a big item. If you do your pre-trip inspection and you get stopped at a scale house or on the roadside by one of us, then you’re probably going to be alright truthfully. You’ve done your pre-trip and you’ve done everything you can to make sure your vehicle is safe, we’re just going to come behind you and make sure that’s correct and we’re hoping for that good inspection, to be honest with you.
CK: That leads me to something we talked about off the podcast about a kind of common misconception that the truckers and motor carriers may feel like the State Transport Police and highway patrol are out to get them. How do you feel about that?
CG: That’s far from the truth. Every safety talk I ever do or any kind of educational purposes I do with truck drivers or the trucking schools the first thing I start with is a thank you, because I don’t think they get that enough. Thank you to the companies who started what they do, thank you to the drivers for taking that initiative to go get your CDL and go deliver these products we have to have every day to survive, clothing on our back and food on our table. That’s the first thing I start with is a thank you, because without them we wouldn’t have much of nothing and I wish the general public could see that from the eyes I see it as and what most STP officers do as well. They play a vital role in the stuff that we have and the things we have and the luxuries we have, so it is a misconception. It really is. We’re hoping for that good inspection like I said earlier. We hope that we can stop a company who’s been doing it for a long time and that driver has done a pristine walk around and he’s got his log books right, CDL’s right, medical cars up to date and there’s no violations on that truck. I love sending an inspection in his hand, and I congratulate him when I do. Congratulations, you’ve had absolutely no violations, and if I didn’t find a violation then that’s really saying something, I’ll tell you that now. I really do thank them, I really do.
CK: It sounds like what you’re saying is you would prefer to find the violations.
CG: I prefer not to find any violations, but unfortunately if we see it, we have to write it. It’s not a discretionary thing as far as regulations are concerned. You can’t say that this company, we’re not going to write this for this company but we’re going to write it for that one. You can’t do that. That’s just not right. I think anybody would see it that way. So, there’s no discretion. Let’s say, if there’s a lugnut loose, then a lugnut’s loose. We have to write the violation down.
CK: Are there any red flags that may escalate inspection or cause you to inspect when you initially weren’t going to?
CG: That’s a really good question. To start with, the red flags we’re looking for are definitely traffic related because that’s what we do. Speeding, whatever it may be. But let’s say absent of all that. The driver’s performing his daily duties as required. Nothing is out of the ordinary. He’s not speeding, he’s not doing any traffic infraction, but that STP officer gets behind him and says today this is the random inspection I’m going to do, okay? And, he gets stopped for that random inspection. The red flags we’re looking for is this. If we start that inspection, get up there to a driver, it may start with just a Level 3. OK. Get up there with the driver, start speaking with the driver, get his information, get the companies information, get the logbooks and download those with the new ELD stuff, get it back to the car, we pull up a system, and all of a sudden a red flag comes up and when you say a red flag that’s a perfect description of it, because that’s what comes up on our screen. There’s a red flag that the company or the driver itself has been red flagged, which means the CSA score may be a little high. There FMCSA’s wanting a little bit more thorough inspection with that truck or that driver, and that’s what we’re going to do. So those are red flags that we can see. But for the most part, if we stop them for a Level 3 and we’re walking up the side of it to talk to the driver and we see one or two violations as we’re walking by, that’s going to up our inspection levels. If that helps answer the question, that’s about the easiest way to do it, but the red flags, we have a system that will tell us whether or not that inspection needs to go any further. We can see all the inspections from the past, which helps us as well on that particular general inspection.
CK: Discuss the preventative type education programs that you provide?
CG: Wonderful. Our drive to zero team, can’t speak highly enough of them. It consists of Lance Corporal AS May and Master Officer Glover. Those two guys go around with a go-cart, that’s what most people know it as, as they go around to teach our new truck drivers, new CDL drivers, but on top of that we’re also teaching teams. We go to high schools and anybody with a permit or above is allowed to participate in this program. We encourage those programs. What we are teaching those drivers is about distracted driving. What it’s like to be impaired while driving. And that goes for our commercial motor drivers as much as it is our teams and our other drivers. To me in my eyes, and just personally, I believe all accidents can be prevented. OK. Everybody has bad days. What we’re trying to get this point across that this texting while driving or distracted while driving is a huge issue in our state and throughout the country. If we can get to those teams before they start doing that especially around a commercial motor vehicle, because when it occurs around a commercial motor vehicle is not pleasant and the likelihood of injury is going to be high. So, we’re trying to get that message across. That’s the part we do with our drive zero team and as far as me in general and our sergeants and other staff members they get out and do safety talks with the trucking company and trucking industry. We really love that initial call that we get, we would really love you guys to come out and do a talk. Would you mind coming out here and just going through our drivers, talking to them about their safety, what their pretrip, what yall are looking for and basically what yall are asking me today. This is great. This is what we want to hear. We want to see that pro-active stance as far as education and safety and we know that we’ve done everything we can proactively to help that company or help that driver or maybe hit a point that he hasn’t thought about, one safety little point that maybe he just hasn’t thought about in the time he’s been driving. We hope to get that across to him during that program.
CK: Corporal Goff, along our South Carolina highways right now we’ve got a lot of road construction, a lot of widening of roads, and to do that it takes some time and there’s a lot of lane closures, there’s a lot of lane narrowing. Tell me what you’ve seen in regard to that.
CG: So, unfortunately, we’ve had a lot of collisions lately and majority of them have been in work zones. And unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of good people in South Carolina because of it. You know, I just really want to hit across the point that when you come up to that construction zone, number one let’s be mindful of the people who are working in the zone. They have families to go to everyday. Let’s slow down. Let’s be patient. Patience I can’t stress enough. Even if you’re a little late to work that day, you’re late to work, you made it to work. You may be late, but you made it. That’s a real point that I don’t think people take, you know, they take daily lives for granted and they shouldn’t. Be patient in what you do every day. Slow down. Those guys on the side of the road, let’s be cautious of them. Let them do their job. And as far as being around a big truck, which is what we handle, those guys need time to stop. Don’t be the person where you’re driving down the road in your sedan and decide that I’m going to pullout in front of a truck driver and you know traffic’s stopped up ahead and that truck driver needs that extra second to stop, he really does. Give him that second. Don’t cut him off. Be safe in the work zones. Slow down. Take your time. That’s the best thing I can tell you.
CK: Alright Corporal Goff, my last question for you is a very important one for our audience. What advice would you give to commercial truck drivers and safety managers and motor carriers to keep their vehicles safe and on the road?
CG: So you know, part of getting your CDL is they talk so highly at the DMV, etc. about pretrip inspections. I can’t tell you how important a pretrip inspection is. Most drivers probably take it as it’s another pretrip day, I’m getting my day started, it’s another time to go out there and check my truck, I just checked it yesterday and I haven’t been but 300 miles, it’s probably find, I’m not going to worry about it. Please don’t be that guy or that gal. Get out there, best thing to do is get out and walk around a little bit, that’s the perfect time to get out and walk around. Check your lugnuts, check your tires, look up underneath that truck see if you see anything hanging, see if you see something that just does not look right or out of the ordinary, check those brake separation in your brake pads from your brake drums. Make sure you don’t have a severe separation there. Make sure that your brakes are adequately equipped to stop you the driver from having a collision or preventing one. Having that little extra second, that millisecond that you needed to stop because maybe you didn’t have it because you didn’t do a good pretrip and that brake was separated enough, and it wasn’t activated correctly. So, things like that, that’s the best thing I can tell you. As a safety manager, the best thing I can tell you is to be proactive with your drivers. Get out there yourself and look at those trucks. If you see something that does not look right, let’s write it up, let’s talk to the driver, let’s go talk to the maintenance guys and get those things fixed before they hit the road. Another part of that is this, if a driver, as a safety manager, if a driver brings you a report and says hey this stuff right here is not right. This stuff needs to be fixed before I hit the road. Please don’t ignore that. I know we have drivers sometimes that are a little, very particular about their vehicles, that could be a really good thing, because he may be telling you, it’s like that boy that cried wolf, he could probably be telling you five days in a row that something minor’s wrong but that one little thing that you just push off as a safety manager because he’s just telling me again that it’s probably something minor, you know, don’t be that safety manager. Get out there and look at it and make sure that he’s not telling you something that could be critical that could cost your company a liability. I mean, honestly, get out there and do it. Be proactive. That’s the best thing I can tell you.
CK: Corporal Goff, I appreciate your insight and your time. Thank you so much for being here today. I will kick it back to you Mike.
MB: You’ve been listening to Corporal Matthew Goff of the South Carolina State Transport Police with Collins and Lacy trucking and transportation attorney Charles Kinney.
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