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Safety vs. profits: The harsh realities of the modern truck inspection mindset

May 9, 2023
Pre- and post-trip inspections are a matter of safety, especially during International Roadcheck. Why, then, is compliance still a challenge?

Just because pre- and post-trip inspections are common sense doesn’t mean they are common practice. These inspections, and an underlying reluctance to complete them, may signal a larger issue within our industry: business and safety practices are at odds.

For operators who are only paid when their wheels are rolling, making every minute count is critical to their livelihood, especially under tight deadlines. Even though a typical inspection can take 15 minutes, the issue comes down to time and money, risk and payoff—for companies, as much as drivers.

Despite federal regulatory and enforcement power, crashes involving commercial vehicles persist.

According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 25,564 commercial vehicles—light trucks, large trucks and buses—were involved in fatal crashes in 2020, or 47% of all vehicles involved in fatalities that year.

Compliance is not the same as safety.

What factors into a safety mindset

Making time for on-the-job safety, in all its forms—inspections, trainings, rest, and meals—is paramount. However, a range of business practices, and even pressure from some regulations, can be a detriment to employee retention and overall safety.

For example, pay-by-the-mile compensation, as opposed to an hourly compensation, has been widely recognized to disincentivize safety protocols, including completing thorough inspections. The rules and regulations designed to improve safety, instead, cut back on miles or the time drivers have to make those miles. In addition, motor carriers are exempt from having to pay drivers overtime, which means fueling, inspecting the load, or waiting to be loaded or unloaded is often all unpaid.

A common complaint is that hours of service and electronic logging device mandates hinder drivers’ ability to decide for themselves what they need and when.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recognizes that tight delivery schedules are part of the challenge. The report found 73% of the drivers perceived their delivery deadlines as unrealistically tight. The rush to meet deadlines can lead to speeding, violating driving-hour regulations, and pencilwhipping one of the most crucial steps to safe driving: inspections.

We need a new approach

Despite all the local, state, and federal regulations in the trucking industry, workers in transportation and material-moving jobs represent some of the highest fatalities of any occupational group, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

National high-visibility safety initiatives like International Roadcheck can help. This year’s roadcheck, set for May 16-18, focuses on anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and cargo securement. Although ABS violations are not out-of-service violations, it’s a critical system in reducing the risk of collisions. Conversely, improper cargo securement can affect maneuverability and cause traffic hazards and collisions.

If a serious collision occurs that results from a maintenance defect or cargo issue on a commercial vehicle, data from a pre-trip inspection will factor into how much liability operators, vehicle owners and companies face. The average verdict size for a lawsuit above $1 million involving a truck crash increased nearly 1,000% from 2010 to 2018, from $2.3 million to $22.3 million, according to a report by the American Transportation Research Institute.

During last year’s International Roadcheck blitz, more than 59,000 vehicles were inspected during the 72- hour period, and of those vehicles, nearly a quarter, 12,456, were placed out of service. The top five vehicle out-of-service violations during last year’s road check event were brake systems, 25.2%; tires, 18.5%; defective service brakes, 12.7%; lights, 12.2%; and cargo securement, 10.6%, according to results from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

FMCSA Administrator Robin Hutcheson has been quoted saying that compensation is a factor in safety and is one of the root causes of why drivers become unsafe in the first place. The industry cannot continue the same practices and expect safety to improve.

Creating a new safety mindset

Trucking companies are examining their pay structure and technology to promote and incentivize safer driving. They’re moving to compensate drivers beyond just miles driven. Salary and bonus-based payment structures cover time spent inspecting vehicles and encourage adequate pre- and post-trip inspections.

Similar to how fleets have gotten on board with in-cab coaching devices to gamify and incentivize safe driving behaviors, this approach can be applied to inspections as well. Fleets can host team safety competitions with prizes for the safest drivers.

Fleets should also provide drivers with better tools to complete their inspections. Without going through a list that guides drivers through the proper safety inspection steps, it is easy to overlook some or all of them. Through electronic driver-verified inspection reports (EVIR/eDVIR) fleet managers can set drivers up for success with tailored inspection requirements that are easy to see and apply to their specific needs, ensuring thorough pre- and post-trip inspections. Furthermore, electronic inspections can cut inspection time in half compared to the old way of tracking inspections on paper. This helps fleets comply with regulations, quickly complete audits, and get back on the road.

Investment in these digital tools not only reinforces a safety-first culture, but also shows drivers that the company wants them to spend time building safer habits. Technology and new approaches can make this re-learning a natural part of the job.

Safety isn’t just the responsibility of the drivers. Dispatchers and management have a role too, and how they encourage safety and compliance among operators matters. It’s about more than their bottom lines, it’s about increasing safety for all road users.

Fred Fakkema is vice president of safety & compliance at Zonar. Prior to joining Zonar in 2010, he enjoyed a successful a 25-year career with the Washington State Patrol (WSP).

About the Author

Fred Fakkema | Vice President of Safety and Compliance, Zonar

Fred Fakkema joined Zonar after 25 years with the Washington State Patrol (WSP). During his time with the WSP, he commanded the WSP Academy, Government and Relations Division, as well as the Commercial Vehicle Division.

Fred is the Past President for the FBI National Academy Associates— Washington Chapter. In 2021, Fred was named a Gold Globee winner in the Executive of the Year, automotive, transportation, storage and logistics category of the 6th Annual 2021 American Best in Business Awards. And he's the Chair of the 2023 ATA Law Enforcement Advisory Board.

He’s also a member of the:

• American Trucking Association (ATA) Safety Policy Committee

• American Trucking Association (ATA) Technology and Engineering Policy Committee

• Association of Equipment Management Professionals (AEMP) Core Content Committee

• Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) Government Relations Committee

• Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) Equipment & Technology Advisory Council

• American Bus Association (ABA) School Bus Council

Fred Fakkema earned his Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Washington.