Some of the most important things a driver can do to ensure a safe and successful trip happen before they even get on the road. Following standard guidelines for pre-trip inspections should ensure a safe and compliant trip but these guidelines are extensive, and overlooking small details can result in big violations.
Beyond the typical pre-trip inspection protocol, drivers and carriers can incorporate just a few extra steps in their pre-trip inspections to avoid roadside violations before hitting the pavement.
Here’s what industry veterans tell drivers to guarantee a quick, clean roadside inspection:
Don’t make assumptions
Andy Blair, who worked as a police officer for over 25 years and spent many of them with DOT enforcement, now provides safety instruction and pre-trip inspection training for trucking companies. According to Blair, it’s often the easiest pre-trip checks that drivers are most likely to skip.
“Some of the most common things that I find that are very, very obvious are drivers that don’t check their safety triangles and fire extinguishers,” Blair said, adding that it’s easy for drivers to “assume if there’s a red plastic box in their truck, that it probably has three triangles in it.”
There are a number of reasons that might not be the case. Fire extinguishers, for instance, lose pressure over time, meaning a truck’s extinguisher could be “discharged” in violation of safety requirements even if it’s never been sprayed.
A ticket for a discharged fire extinguisher costs around $128.50. “It doesn’t matter if you checked it last week,” Blair says. “Are you willing to risk $128.50 on it?”
Check all the lights during pre-trip inspections
Blair said the most common issue he finds during equipment checks are broken lights. A broken headlight is also one of the easiest violations for officers to detect on the road. Inspect lights in a dark enough place where you can identify which ones aren’t working. “Take the time to get out and walk around your truck. There are lights that go out during the course of traffic. I get that. But nonetheless, lights are still the number one violation found.”
Get low and look underneath
This year, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance made a number of alterations and additions to out-of-service criteria.
As of April 1, “lodged items between tires of a dual tire set” are grounds for an out-of-service violation. “A solid object lodged between tires poses an imminent hazard, as the item can become a projectile when dislodged,” the new rule states, which was added after a fatality was reported due to a rock that became dislodged.
With the added importance of checking tires for debris before a trip, Blair suggests checking underneath the truck carefully as well, given the possibility that items stuck underneath the truck — while dangerous by themselves — could become lodged in the tires. “Crouch down and look around,” Blair said, noting that even though it’s not “common or frequent” to find items stuck under the truck, “you can find a lot of surprising things” that affect the safety of the vehicle.
Pay extra attention to the brakes
Catherine MacMillan, an editor of SmartTrucking.com who has been part of the trucking industry for 30 years, said the brakes are often the most commonly overlooked area during a pre-trip inspection. Dealing with brake adjustment and air leaks “is a more difficult and dirty job, that many drivers tend to avoid,” she told Motive. “Air leaks are often missed as it’s difficult to stand on the brake pedal and be able to listen for air leaks at the back of the trailer at the same time!”
What’s more, MacMillan said roadside officers are inclined to check “brake adjustment and air leaks” carefully, “as they know that’s what many drivers skip over.”
MacMillan offered this tip for making brake inspections easier in SmartTrucking’s step-by-step guide: Use a piece of wood the length of the space between the brake and the steering wheel to hold down the pedal. “While the brake pedal is depressed by the block of wood, the driver can walk around the truck/trailer and check for air leaks,” MacMillan said, who also recommended scaling the truck and checking axle weights during pre-trip inspections when possible.
As much as pre-trip inspections prevent safety violations, organized logs prevent form and manner violations and can decrease the likelihood of an HOS violation. “With the elog system, everything is organized and completed for the driver,” MacMillan said.
Drivers should incorporate this step into their pre-trip preparations. If your fleet uses paper logs, switch to elogs, which makes this step quicker and therefore drivers are more likely to complete it.