No matter what level you are at within your organization, or if you are an owner-operator, it’s very likely that if your safety scores are not up to your standard, you simply aren’t getting as many bypass green lights at inspection points as you would like. Fortunately, there is an answer.
With so much regulatory change happening within the trucking industry, state enforcement agencies are doing everything they can to help trucking operators increase safety levels and drive up fleet safety scores. After all, these are the men and women who enforce these rules every day. Certainly, they are there to help.
So, what would they recommend? What are some ways trucking companies and owner-operators can better work with law enforcement to improve safety across the board?
Taking Safety Seriously
If there is one thing a fleet can do to ensure those within your organization have safety and inspections at the front of their mind, it would be to join a state trucking association. Every state has its own trucking or motor carrier association.
Most, if not all, of these entities conduct events each year focused on truck and truck driver safety. Even more, these events are generally attended by those who work in commercial truck enforcement. Having your fleet’s name seen at these events cannot be a bad thing in the eyes of an inspector.
In fact, according to a former officer with the Missouri State Highway Patrol quoted in a trucking magazine, his agency regularly sent enforcement officers to events hosted by the Missouri Trucking Association. By making themselves available, officers allow trucking interests to get enforcement clarification while demonstrating that they take these matters seriously.
Even attending state truck driving championships can yield benefits. Although many will be there for the entertainment, these are still great places to gain access to large groups of truck drivers in one place. Allowing officers to clearly explain enforcement actions to interested parties can be extremely helpful and help reinforce good behaviors in truck drivers.
When everyone is communicating on the same wavelength, there is less likely to be confusion or misunderstanding. These efforts go a long way to ensuring safety is a priority and inspections go down without a hitch.
Of course, we cannot guarantee that attending state trucking events will win your operation any bypass green lights, but it certainly couldn’t hurt!
Submitting for Voluntary and Outreach Inspections
If there is one thing that will impress an inspector, it’s when a truck driver proactively asks for an inspection. This is especially true for new trucking companies, those that have little safety history or those who have failed inspections in the past. An easy way to improve your fleet’s safety scores is to rack up many “clean” inspections.
You may be surprised to learn this, but it is not all that uncommon for truck drivers to stop at a scale house and proactively ask for an inspection. With nothing to worry about, getting it out of the way can be hugely beneficial down the road.
Yet, this approach does not come without some risk. If an officer does agree to the inspection and you haven’t done your due diligence, you could get safety dings if the inspector finds problems. So, if you do decide to submit to a voluntary inspection, make sure you have thoroughly checked your vehicle before having it inspected.
There are also other ways to get more inspections. If a law enforcement agency visits your fleet because they were invited and finds problems during an inspection, they can provide you with feedback without assessing a penalty, which can be hugely beneficial considering the same courtesy would not be given if the problem was found during a weigh station or highway inspection.
Some states even proactively reach out to carriers asking if they would like an inspection. In these instances, penalties are not applied for problems found. Instead, the enforcement officer will take a big picture look at how the operation is running and guide the fleet on how to improve its business model – all without writing a single ticket, of course.
Outreach inspections provided by law enforcement can address many issues with a fleet, rather than the limited range addressed at a weigh station. Take load securement as one example.
If a fleet calls up a state enforcement agency and says they need help with their load securement efforts from an enforcement perspective, an officer can come out, look at the program, and provide a comprehensive action plan. When visiting a fleet yard for an outreach inspection, officers try to address as many issues as they can, whether it be trailer utilization, hours-of-service compliance, or inspection information. The best part? It’s free for the carrier!
And of course, there’s the bypass green light. If your fleet is a well-known voluntary or outreach inspection entity in the minds of an officer, you increase the chance that said officer could recognize your fleet’s name and award you a coveted bypass green light.
Using Data for Inspections
Did you know that you can harness the power of big data to improve inspection results and wind up with more bypass green lights for your truck drivers? That’s right, fleet data can be used to begin or end a discussion with an enforcement officer regarding something that has got their attention.
Data can either back you up or prove you wrong. Either way, it provides itself as a valuable tool for a motor carrier to use to provide additional information regarding a vehicle or piece of equipment. Beyond what the fleet collects, there is also a lot of actionable data on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s SAFER System.
Fleets using the PrePass System also have access to a wealth of free data stored in the InfoRM Safety Intelligence System. This advanced database provides motor carriers with real-time insights regarding their ISS scores. Even more, it can even tell a fleet how much their scores might be affecting their bypass green light rate.
In the end, it really is a matter of fleets taking the time to study where their trucks are being inspected the most and why they get inspection dings. By paying close attention to these factors, fleets can decrease deficiencies, increase ISS scores and may be more inclined to be awarded a bypass green light at an inspection site.
The overarching goal of any of these techniques should be to prevent safety issues before the rubber ever hits the road. But in the case that an inspection is going to happen, how should truck drivers be prepared?
What to Expect During an Inspection
There are a great many good reasons why truck drivers need to be extremely thorough when completing pre-trip inspections, not-the-least-of-which being a safety violation avoided. Inspections happen. Not every truck will always get a bypass green light, but will they be prepared?
Here’s how it works. As your truck closes in on a weigh station, DOT inspectors pull up your BASIC scores. They will be looking for your ISS score, vehicle out-of-service score, and truck driver out-of-service score, with each being color-coded. With red being bad and yellow not the best, inspectors look for lots of red or yellow on their screen. If they see it, you can pretty much rest assured you will be pulled in for an inspection.
In some cases, if the rating system does not have enough data, a system spike may wind up generating an inspection. For fleets who have a great safety record and rarely get inspected, this is a reality.
There are several additional reasons why a truck driver may be inspected at a weigh station, including:
- Poor ISS or out-of-service ratings;
- Broken headlight(s);
- A dirty truck;
- Obvious damage;
It is also important to remember that sometimes inspections are simply random. If a trucker is picked for an inspection, there are six different inspection levels.
In the end, it is vitally important that truck drivers understand that inspectors talk to many different truck drivers every day. Think of these men and women like referees in sports. Outside of a few occasions, rarely do you ever see a player treating a referee badly.
If there is one way to ensure you are on the bypass green light blacklist, it would be to treat an inspection officer with disdain, scorn, or disrespect. After all, these are the men and women who are doing what they can to help you operate safer and more effectively.
Being nice to an inspector might also yield valuable information. Let’s say you have been pulled in repeatedly in the last couple of days. If you nicely tell the officer this, they may be inclined to tell you what they see on their screen and why you may be getting pulled in for so many inspections.
Looking for that ever-elusive bypass green light? The secret lies in the inspection. Take them seriously and you’ll find yourself breezing by weigh stations and inspection points more often than not.