With the law now behind them, drivers are being empowered
It's not often that the federal government can be credited with a good idea, but a recent conversation with a friend of mine who is a truck driver leads me to believe that Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) has already made a difference. Jim is a great guy with a huge heart — a company driver in every sense of the word. He is often asked to work on Saturday after putting in a full week and told me he regularly “took one for the team” by exceeding his hours of service to get a piece of equipment back home or make a Saturday delivery.
The same could be said for looking the other way when it came to marginal tires and other inspection items. As we talked, Jim told me about the times that he used to pull a trailer when the tread was a little thin on one of the tires. He didn't want to make trouble and appreciated his paycheck every week, so he wouldn't be the one to make waves. But everything is different with CSA, so he's (finally) standing up for himself and refusing to hook up to a trailer with an out-of-service condition.
Jim kept talking about a dispatcher who loves to threaten drivers with less work if they don't play ball with hours of service. Being the genuine nice guy that he is, he told me he would usually cave in because helping out Mr. “X” was a good move with the bosses. Now that CSA is in place and there is more enforcement on the highway, Jim said he wasn't going to take the chance and risk becoming a target for roadside inspections. The dispatcher hasn't stopped the high-pressure tactics to bend the rules now and then, but Jim has definitely stopped listening.
One only needs to look at the motor coach industry, where recent strike force inspections resulted in 289 unsafe buses or drivers being removed from roadways to answer any questions regarding the federal government's position on safety. If statistics reveal that a particular segment of the trucking industry is in need of enforcement, then it is going to come quickly and unannounced. In its own version of “shock and awe,” the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) worked with state and local authorities to conduct 2,782 surprise inspections in less than two weeks. Another tool in the FMCSA tool box is a full safety compliance review, and 95 were initiated on commercial passenger bus companies at the same time. I'm sure they knew that increased attention would be inevitable, but I doubt they expected a full-court press like that.
Tires are definitely a high priority item, so fleets must remember that federal limits regarding minimum tread depth are measured at any spot in any major tread groove. If one rib or tread block is irregularly worn to the point where it is below 4/32 or 2/32 in., then a violation will exist. Of course, most irregular treadwear patterns are caused by improper inflation pressure, so drivers should be properly equipped to gauge-check every tire prior to each trip. And if fleets are going to spend the money on quality air gauges and expect drivers to use them, then inflate-through valve caps are a must. Everyone must work together under CSA because it's obvious that the new system appears to be working on different levels.
I recently had a conversation with Jim at a Little League baseball game on a Saturday. It took only 10 minutes for me to realize that CSA is having an impact. He won't be missing as many games.
Kevin Rohlwing can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org