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June 11, 2019 11:00 AM, EDT

Carriers Invest in Inspection Strategies, Tools

Inspection A Smokey Point employee and truck. (Smokey Point Distributing)

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Motor carriers are investing in training, technology and ongoing education to help ensure their drivers conduct thorough pre- and post-trip inspections, which are essential for complying with federal safety standards and minimizing vehicle downtime.

“Good inspections help to reduce and prevent over-the-road breakdowns by making sure trucks are in good working condition,” said Chad Willis, senior vice president of safety, compliance and support services at Ruan. Willis said that fewer breakdowns mean lower repair costs and improved customer service and on-time deliveries.

Taking the time to perform a 15- to 20-minute inspection could save drivers two to five hours stranded on the side of the road, said Alex Oruña, regional operations manager for TCI Transportation, based in Fontana, Calif.

What’s more, a tire blowout could lead to a multi-vehicle collision that could have been avoided if a tire defect had been found during a routine inspection, he said.

However, convincing drivers that thorough inspections will reduce headaches down the road isn’t always easy.

“We have to do something to get these guys engaged to make sure they’re really doing their pre- and post-trip,” said Steve Rush, president of Carbon Express, a bulk carrier based in Wharton, N.J. “It is an ongoing challenge to get everyone on board.”

Fleet executives told Transport Topics they begin the conversation about inspections during new-hire orientation.

“We physically take drivers out to a truck and trailer and walk them through it and show them the things that could potentially be a problem,” said Russ Thompson, executive vice president at Roadmaster Group.

TCI Transportation’s managers provide monthly tailgate safety meetings to drivers via on-site visits at their domiciled locations or terminal meetings.

“I tell drivers to check your equipment closely and if you see something, say something so we can have it repaired prior to the driver operating the heavy equipment out on the roads,” Oruña said.

Lake Success, N.Y.-based Transervice Logistics provides training before shifts, through handouts and at gate checks.

“By using the multiple formats, we are coming at the drivers in different angles, so the material sinks in and best practices become habitual,” said Matt Copot, the company’s vice president of maintenance. “We provide immediate feedback to the drivers on repairs that have been made and also train them when specifications have been changed, so they are aware of them.”

Training shows drivers that the company takes their issues seriously and wants to provide them with safe, reliable vehicles, Copot said.

Chad Mensch, director of safety and compliance for Watsontown Trucking, uses radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology from Zonar Systems that requires drivers to scan tags on seven specific zones on the tractor. Drivers can send photos of issues to the maintenance shop, he added.

Flatbed and specialized carrier Smokey Point Distributing, a Daseke company, uses technology from Trimble Transportation to implement a workflow that requires drivers to complete a pre-trip inspection via an electronic driver vehicle inspection report.

Drivers mark problems on the DVIR, which goes to the maintenance department, said Mike Haas, the fleet’s director of safety. The driver and maintenance technician communicate through Trimble’s in-cab technology, or a driver can call a dedicated maintenance line 24 hours a day.

Inspection

A Roadmaster Group inspection. (Roadmaster Group)

TCI Transportation uses Omnitracs onboard systems to help manage inspections.

“Each driver logs in, and the Omnitracs device notifies them that a pre-trip is needed, and it’s all handled electronically,” Oruña said.

Any time a driver notes a defect, it sends a message to the driver’s supervisor and shop supervisor, Oruña said, adding that items must be corrected to be cleared in the system.

At Dupré Logistics, checklists are handled through an electronic form the driver completes and files within its maintenance system. The company trains drivers using regulatory guidance, hands-on techniques and video of company personnel performing proper pre- and post-trip inspections on equipment, said Al Lacombe, vice president of safety and risk management for the fleet.

By using electronic logging devices, Ruan’s compliance department audits driver logs to verify that drivers are taking at least 15 minutes to conduct inspections. Hazmat and flatbed operations typically require 30 minutes of drivers’ on-duty time.

“Anyone who tells you he is doing a good pre-trip in less than 10 minutes isn’t doing one,” said Rush of Carbon Express.

Carbon Express pays drivers by the hour, which eliminates the excuse that drivers are hurrying through inspections because they’re not getting paid while conducting them, he added.

Sometimes, simply watching drivers can provide the best assurance, carrier executives said.

The operations department personnel at Dupré Logistics observes drivers to ensure they complete thorough pre- and post-trip inspections, Lacombe said.

At Ruan, safety and management personnel periodically conduct unannounced observations to verify inspections are being completed. Often, the company’s managers will place tags on certain inspection areas, such as dipsticks or fifth wheel handles to see how well inspections are being completed, Willis said.

If the driver turns the tags in, he receives positive recognition. “If the tags are not turned in, we know there are some issues with completing inspections and that we will need to take some remedial action,” he said.

Roadmaster Group’s Thompson said his company created a system of checks and balances.

“Every time a truck or trailer comes into our yard, our technicians do a pre-trip of our own,” Thompson said. “If you find issues, you bring it to the drivers’ attention and provide some training to hopefully get them more focused on it.”

The possibility of incurring points under the federal Compliance, Safety, Accountability program make drivers more invested, Thompson said. “Prior to CSA, the driver would have said, ‘I’ll fix that at my next stop.’ It isn’t like that today with CSA,” he said.

Smokey Point Distributing offers an incentive program that gives drivers a certain rate per mile if they don’t have any CSA violations. Plus, the fleet pays a bonus for a clean inspection. If a driver receives a maintenance-related inspection violation, Smokey Point addresses it with the driver and provides training.

Lacombe of Dupré Logistics said the most common maintenance problems drivers usually find are lights, cracked windshields, faded placards, and chaffed tires and hoses.

Inspection

A Dupré worker completes an inspection. (Dupré Logistics)

“When we do see problems, it’s typically associated with tires, lights and fluids. These are things that the driver has the greatest impact on day to day,” added Willis of Ruan.

TCI Transportation’s Oruña said problems with lights and leaks are harder to catch ahead of time.

“The component could appear fine one day, then start leaking the next day, so those items are usually not found until the leak has already started,” he said.

Electrical issues also are tricky. Oruña said that on many occasions he’s experienced situations in which all electrical systems are working at the time of pre-trip, then not working by the end of the driver’s shift.

Drivers can take care of some maintenance items themselves.

Roadmaster Group supplies its drivers with lights and a mud flap so they can handle small fixes.

“If they can bolt on a mud flap, it takes 10 minutes versus waiting for roadside service,” Thompson said.

Watsontown Trucking’s drivers can call the 24-hour line so technicians can walk the drivers through a repair if it is something simple.

“There is a big difference in our industry if you go to a repair shop or a repair shop comes to you. Good pre-trips help prevent violations,” Mensch said.

For Transervice Logistics, some of the more common issues include check engine lights related to aftertreatment systems, engine performance, tire wear and brakes, Copot said. The repairs drivers can work on themselves depend on if tooling is required, he said.

Oruña said the most common problems include electrical issues, such as marker lights not working, typically from a short in the line or a burnt fuse. TCI Transportation provides spare fuses in the trucks and extra gladhand gaskets.

“Some drivers still carry a small toolkit and have even replaced gladhands themselves if they have an extra on board,” Oruña said.

At Smokey Point Distributing, drivers can send messages through their in-cab communications systems for nonurgent repair needs and it becomes part of a work order for maintenance. “We tag it and it gets a look over before it goes back out again,” Haas said.

Meanwhile, Rush said Carbon Express has hired many drivers new to the industry, and optimistically notes that many industry newcomers are excelling at inspections.