Inside A Roadside Inspection

Two Illinois State Police
Officers describe what it
looks like from the other side
of your trucks.

Lieutenant Dave Beasley, a 25-year-veteran of the Illinois State Police, heads up the Commercial Vehicle Section, the department that oversees commercial vehicle inspections. Trooper Lance Bonney has been on the road for ten years doing DOT enforcement. The officers spent a morning with Welding & Gases Today’s Senior Editor Carole Jesiolowski, talking about what they want to see on the road and what causes them to cringe.

CJ: How do you decide who gets pulled over for an inspection?
Lt Beasley: Some states require probable cause, a reason to stop the vehicle. In Illinois we can stop a vehicle any time. I would say that 50 percent of inspections are truly random, pulled over because the officer took the next available truck.

Tpr Bonney: I may be sitting at a given area and a truck has not passed by for a while. Then one comes by and that’s the one that gets stopped. Other times I see a truck with a blown tire throwing rubber all over the road and its load is not properly secured. I’m going to make a stop on this truck because I’ve observed two violations. In concentrated, metropolitan areas, we target activity to problems within the community, i.e., an overweight situation, speeding, semis running too fast on a given road, or known crash data. It may be that at 2 o’clock in the morning on a given stretch of road, three truck crashes occurred and all three were cheating on their logbooks and were too tired and shouldn’t have been out there. Or it’s a situation where there were three crashes on this road and all three trucks were overweight and shouldn’t have been operating on that road.

CJ: Are placarded vehicles priorities for inspection?
Lt Beasley: Right after 9/11, we paid very close attention to hazmat loads because of the security concern. Normally we don’t target hazmat loads, but a dedicated hazmat detail will look for placarded vehicles. Inspectors are aware that there are hazmat loads that don’t require a placard, and they will check shipping papers on trucks that don’t display placards.

CJ: How many inspections are done in a day, and is there a specific time when you do them?
Tpr Bonney: Standard commercial vehicle inspections are done all day long, seven days a week. Dedicated DOT officers traditionally work during the hours when commercial vehicles are seen, typically Monday through Friday during the day time. They do four to eight inspections a day, depending on weather conditions. Over-the-road truck drivers, of course, are 24/7. Each year in Illinois, we do 80,000 to 100,000 inspections.

CJ: How much time should the average roadside inspection take?
Lt Beasley: A Level One inspection involving hazardous materials in a cargo tank can take 30 to 60 minutes. If it’s a cylinder truck and the officer is going to check every cylinder, it could take at least an hour, depending on the number of cylinders. A Level Two walk-around averages 25 minutes, while a driver-only inspection should take 20 minutes. We don’t do a lot of Level Fours, and timing depends on what we’re looking for. A Level Five terminal inspection takes 20 to 30 minutes.

CJ: What is the most common violation found during an inspection?
Tpr Bonney: On over-the-road trucks, failure to keep the logbook current is by far the most common violation. But not having a logbook is also a violation that we see a lot. Drivers in metropolitan areas are exempt from keeping a logbook, and when they do that occasional run that exceeds the limit, they are placed out of service if they are stopped without a logbook.

Lt Beasley: The national driver out of service rate is 7 percent; in Illinois, it’s 6. The biggest reason for being out of service is related to hours of service.

Tpr Bonney: Most of the crashes I’ve handled involving commercial vehicles have been caused by dodging the alleged deer, usually attributed to falling asleep at the wheel.

Lt Beasley: I think every trooper and inspector has a story where they’ve stopped a truck driver and while talking about the logbook, the driver started nodding off and falling asleep. That’s a pretty common experience.

Tpr Bonney: In your industry specifically, an often-seen violation is driver qualification. On smaller trucks, drivers don’t always have the appropriate license classification to operate the vehicle.

Lt Beasley: Overall, brakes are the number one violation. Obviously they get the most use and see the most wear and tear.

CJ: Many small companies do not have mechanics on staff. Bounce vibration and frequent stops and starts cause brakes to quickly go out of adjustment, even after recent maintenance. Give us some insight into the allowable tolerances.
Lt Beasley: We follow the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance guidelines, which are based on industry standards for type and size of brake. The more common clamp brakes range from 1.5 to 2 inches, and larger for motor coach, but it depends on vehicle size.

CJ: Why is it that drivers consider inspections bothersome?
Tpr Bonney: Because drivers aren’t making money when their trucks are stopped. Good companies preach safety and make sure their drivers understand they will get stopped and inspected and there won’t be a problem with it. Interesting, I never hear complaints from hazmat haulers. They know how critical their commodities are and how many laws they have to comply with. They know they’re going to get stopped, and they’re going to get checked.

Lt Beasley: Our primary goal is safety on the roads. There is a story going around that one state, not Illinois, put a number of inspectors on the road without proper training or experience. These inspectors wrote up a lot of “nit-picking” violations, generating needed revenue for the state’s coffers. Let me tell you, there is no truth to this story. When a violation is written, the fine is not paid to the state, it’s paid to the county. In Illinois, a hazmat violation is a civil penalty that carries a hefty fine which is based on enforcement history. If there are a lot of violations, that penalty may be heavier. But usually we’re eager to work with the company and if you’re willing to sit down with DOT and discuss it, those penalties sometimes get reduced.

Tpr Bonney: I run into more companies concerned about safety and respect what we do for running a safe operation, as opposed to being concerned about getting a ticket. Many companies reward their drivers with bonuses for operating safely, maintaining a clean record and keeping a good logbook. If they receive a clean inspection and we place a CVSA decal on the truck, they’ll often tell me, “Thanks, I just made $50.”

Lt Beasley: We think having our inspectors out there enhances safety, and that’s the ultimate goal.

CJ: Do you have any advice for our readers to make their operations safer?
Lt Beasley: Training is key. Many enforcement and regulatory agencies offer safety programs. Work with them. When asked, we’ll do a safety program for a carrier. We attend safety meetings and show exactly what is done at an inspection.

Tpr Bonney: Organization is critical. Here’s an example: I pull over a driver. He’s in a hurry, has somewhere to be, and he asks me to be expeditious. Out of courtesy to him, I tell him I’ll try to get him on his way, and it never fails. He can’t find any of his paperwork. He opens the glove box where there is a stack of paper from the 1970s and 80s. He doesn’t know what he needs or why he needs it, and he just hands me a huge stack of paperwork and expects me to rummage through it. I strongly encourage companies to put together a nice little binder with laminated sheets or plastic folders containing the required and current paperwork. The driver and the company look very professional, and it makes our job much easier. And you’re on your way faster.

CJ: Any on the road horror stories you wish to share?
Lt Beasley: Absolutely. Online at


More Answers to Roadside Inspection Questions

CJ: What kind of training does a state trooper receive in order to do an inspection? Can any trooper do an inspection?
Tpr Bonney: In Illinois, only the Illinois State Police can conduct the federal motor carrier inspection. All Illinois state troopers are certified at the lowest level, which is a level 3 They can stop any commercial motor vehicle for a level 3 inspection.

We have roughly 90 commercial officers, or DOT officers, throughout the state. They have been through 10 weeks of training, which includes hazardous material enforcement, North American level 1 inspection, radioactive material and various other training to do full level one DOT inspections.

CJ: What makes a good inspector?
Lt Beasley: First, someone not afraid to get dirty and dig around. Because when you’re going under a truck, you’re going to get dirty. The person should also have an understanding of the mechanical workings of the truck. He should be able to look at a truck and understand how the systems operate, because sometimes the reason they are not working is not clear-cut. They need technical knowledge, as they must read the regulations and have the technical expertise to interpret them. The person should be self-motivated. These guys are often out on the road by themselves. And they have good communication skills.

CJ: How does the number of inspections done randomly on the side of the road compare to the number done more formally at weigh stations?
Tpr Bonney: Our officers are spread throughout the district, and each district has a different demographic. Inspections are scattered at rest areas, weigh stations on the interstates, and in rural areas. I work a rural area with five counties, none of which has a thick scale house. On the other hand, in the metropolitan areas like East St. Louis and Chicago, there are large scale houses where there are enough DOT officers to work a couple of shifts running day and night.

CJ:  What is the most dangerous time of day for commercial vehicle drivers to be on the road?
Lt Beasley: We don’t have data specifically for commercial vehicles, but the most recent report indicates that 69.3% of all vehicle crashes in Illinois occurred between 8:00 am and 7:59 pm. And the majority of those crashes occurred between the hours of 4:00 pm and 8:00 pm. For all crashes, 88% of them were on urban roadways. The majority of crashes occurred on a Friday, with Tuesday running second.

CJ: Tell me some war stories, unusual things you’ve found during an inspection.
Tpr Bonney: An over-the-road truck driver in a full semi who had absolutely no paperwork stands out in my mind. No paperwork of any kind. Nothing. No registration, no plates, no operating authority, no U.S. DOT number. He went out and bought a truck and said, “I’m going to go down the road and haul some stuff and make some money.” He was completely unaware of any regulations he had to follow. He just went out and bought a truck and started hauling things!

Lt Beasley: We see a lot of things, and many of them center around drivers who are very tired. There was a guy idling at a stop sign at the end of an off-ramp. As luck would have it, an inspector got off the ramp behind him. When the truck didn’t move for a while, the inspector got out and went up to the driver’s door to find the guy asleep at the wheel with his foot on the brake.

A lot of stories center on some of the strange animals drivers take with them for company.

CJ: Such as?
Lt Beasley: A boa constrictor comes to mind. Which isn’t a good thing for an inspector who is afraid of snakes to see come crawling out.

Tpr Bonney: I have many stories but I really wouldn’t care to share them. Most of them belong in a different type of magazine! Some of the drivers we find on the road have very unique lifestyles.

But here’s one I can tell. I stopped a standard over-the-road truck that was hauling product from Arizona to Michigan. I pulled the truck over and pointed out some load-securement violations. I wondered why the truck was on a rural two-lane road instead of the highway. The driver kept insisting that his company’s fuel cards are only accepted at one station in Missouri and nowhere else in the whole United States. So he had to travel this rural two-lane road all the way from Arizona to Michigan to get gas at this specific station. I issued a ticket. Afterward, the company called to complain because its safety record was being tarnished on the load-securement issues, and during the conversation, the location of the inspection came up. The company wanted to know why it was done on this rural road. Well, it soon became apparent that the driver had no business being on that road. He was driving through to see his girlfriend.

CJ: Are the roadways safer now?
Lt Beasley: The State of Illinois had 115 fewer fatal crashes in 2009 than in 2008. We had less than 1,000 highway fatalities in 2009, due to a combination of programs to address poor driving and aggressive efforts by enforcement agencies to target violations. This is the lowest number of fatalities since the 1920s, and represents a downward trend since 2003 in crash-related deaths.

As far as trucks go, in 2008 (Ed note: most recent data at time of interview), tractor trailers accounted for 3.6% of total crashes. But they were involved in 10.5% of all fatal crashes, and that was just in Illinois.

Are the roads safer?  There are four things we are working on:

1. Enforcement – We inspect and make sure drivers are in compliance.

2. Engineering – We look for trends where crashes are occurring along stretches of road. Are the crashes caused by something that can be modified on the existing roadway? Sometimes the modification is small and inexpensive, like signage to slow down traffic. Other fixes are long-term and more complex. For example, a lot of truck rollovers on a ramp may be caused by the design of the ramp. Perhaps it can be redesigned to allow for more room to decrease the angle to give trucks more turning radius. By the way, this is one of the reasons why engineers are getting away from some cloverleaf designs. But it takes land acquisition and obviously more money.

3. Education – When I was a kid, aside from driver’s ed, there really wasn’t a lot of talk about safety issues. Now we go out and do educational programs, as well as work with industry to inform them, much like we are doing now with GAWDA members through this interview in Welding & Gases Today. We understand enforcement as writing tickets, but education plays a very important part so drivers understand the reasoning behind the enforcement.

Drunk driving has been a big issue, and now we see fewer and fewer alcohol-related deaths each year because of the awareness. Some of the decrease is because of enforcement—we increased some penalties—much of it is awareness through education.

One thing that made a big difference is the use of seat belts. A majority of states have seat belt laws, and in Illinois, we have 90% compliance.

There is a big push now toward reducing distracted driving. Now we are seeing TV ads on distracting driving. Years ago, I don’t think we would have seen that type of money put toward education.

4. Emergency Medical Services – I think the one thing that really makes our roads safer now are the changes that have taken place with Emergency Medical Services (EMS). Not that long ago, the ambulance service, particularly in rural areas, had very little training. If you were involved in an accident in some areas, really rural areas, the ambulance service was probably run by the funeral home. When they showed up, they didn’t have a lot of training other than to put you on the gurney and hope you made it to the hospital. Today we have life flight helicopters that can respond. That’s done a lot to improve safety.

CJ: How can businesses and the enforcement community work together to promote safety on the roads?
Lt Beasley: It’s important for the trucking community and the enforcement community to build partnerships and relationships with each other. Long term, the impact that we can make to change things is already going on. We’re already seeing the benefit of fewer fatalities on the highways just because of these partnerships and discussions of how we can improve and what we can do better to get the message out.

There are many industry groups out there, groups like GAWDA and other trade associations that help to make their members aware of safety issues. Every state has a trucking association. There’s the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. Get and stay actively involved with them. They share the information that affects your industry.

Gases and Welding Distributors Association