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March 22, 2018

The Ugly Truth about Pre-Trip Fleet Vehicle Inspection

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Every fleet driver is required by law to perform thorough pre-trip vehicle inspections. Taking the necessary precautions to ensure that the vehicle is safe to drive does not only protect the driver, it is to consider the safety of everyone else on the road as well. Unfortunately, there are currently no guidelines for how long an inspection should take. If what should be checked is properly examined, a full inspection should take 30 to 50 minutes.

Yet, many drivers rush over it and end up only spending 15-20 minutes on the task. Because many drivers do not get paid for the time they spend on each inspection, they would rather get it over with and start making headway on their trip as soon as possible. This is not only very dangerous, the CSA violation fines are not cheap.

The ugly truth about pre-trip fleet vehicle inspections are, most drivers are not making them a priority, but they need to be. Every fleet vehicle needs to make sure their drivers are committed to this process, or the results could be damaging.

Mistakes Commonly Made During Inspections

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Without proper guidelines, it is easy to breeze over things. Because of this, there is usually at least one mistake. Just one mistake could:

  • reduce the efficiency of the truck
  • cause long-term maintenance issues
  • and endanger the lives of many

It is up to fleet companies to enforce strict rules in order to avoid these common mistakes from happening in the future:

Insecure brakes. Checking a trucks brake system is not an easy task. The driver must climb in and out of the truck multiple times and squeeze down under the trailer. Many skip this step because it’s viewed as a pain. The reality is, brakes get worked really hard on the road, and they are often times not in proper condition. If they were to fail, there could be some serious consequences. Almost a third of all violations during roadside inspections have to do with the brakes, so every driver should spend extra time inspecting them.

Not chocking wheels. Chocks are a simple feature to secure the wheels during an inspection. This keep the vehicle in place and the inspector safe, yet many tend to forget this step or consider it unnecessary.

A messy cab. One of the first things an inspector will notice is the condition of the cab. This is where the driver is expected to be able to carry out their business, and if the cab is a mess it doesn’t make them look very responsible. Too much junk can get in your way and creates the possibility of hindering the functionality of mechanical operations (objects getting lodged under breaks or being thrown in line of vision with a sharp turn). The cab should be kept clean and all loose objects put in the glove compartment or secured in some way.

Faulty reflectors. The lights may be working fine, but if the reflectors are defective, visibility of the vehicle can be drastically reduced for others. Drivers on the road may not be able to see the vehicle in poor weather conditions or at night. Few drivers check their reflectors for cracks or dirt. This is something the driver may consider insignificant, but they still could receive a violation for it.

Inadequate emergency kit. Each emergency kit must include:

  • spare fuses
  • circuit breakers
  • warning hazard triangles
  • and a fire extinguisher

All of these items must be in working condition. Hazard triangles should be free of dirt so their reflective strips are visible. Fire extinguishers can lose pressure and need to be serviced on a regular basis.

Seatbelt problems. One should never assume their seatbelt is in good condition. If the edges are frayed the belt could snap. The way the belt retracts and returns should also be checked to ensure that it is smooth. If not, it could need replacing.

Properly placed mirror. The mirror should be adjusted so the driver’s visuals are at their best. Taking the time to do this is also viewed as a hassle by many. Not doing so could result in major blind spots. Mirrors must be angled correctly and secure enough that they won’t easily reposition themselves if the vehicle jerks.

Missing the wheels. So many problems can come from not checking the wheels and tires thoroughly. A common issue that arises is with the wheel fasteners. If these are loose, one of the wheels could come off while the truck is driving. The driver should also check for any rust around the lug nuts which could mean the bolt hole is widening.

Lack of proper paperwork. Oftentimes drivers do not check to make sure they have all of the proper paperwork and documents for the vehicle. Such papers should include:

  • up to date vehicle registration
  • up to date permit documents
  • and up to date ownership documents

When using eLogs, the driver should have one backup cycle’s worth of papers just in case.  Every fleet vehicle must have a safety inspection approval sticker and the driver’s commercial driver’s license should be up to date.

Possible Infractions

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The Department of Transportation has quite a few regulations that affect fleet drivers. Without proper pre-trip inspection, a driver risks the possibility of being fined for any of these. This is a list of some of those violations from the most severe to the least:

  • operating a vehicle that is out-of-service
  • violating airbrake restriction
  • flat tire
  • fabric exposed
  • belt material exposed on the tire
  • tread or sidewall separated
  • flat tire
  • depth of tire front tread less than 4/32 of an inch
  • not using a seatbelt
  • leakage, spills, insecure cargo
  • inadequate tie downs
  • container not secured to front of the vehicle
  • inoperative headlamps
  • inoperative tail lamp
  • turn signal not working
  • defective hazard warning lamp
  • dysfunctional fog/driving lamps
  • steering wheel not secured
  • loose steering column
  • components of steering system missing
  • power steering violations
  • no pre-trip inspection
  • dysfunctional brake system
  • no emergency braking
  • no tractor protection valve
  • no automatic trailer brake
  • brake hose not secured
  • brake connections with leaks where they connect to the power unit
  • brake connections with leaks under the vehicle
  • dysfunctional brake linings
  • brakes that will not safely stop
  • clamp or rotochamber type brake not properly adjusted
  • wedge type brakes not properly adjusted
  • dysfunctional brake limiting device dysfunctional air reservoir drain valve
  • dysfunctional brake warning device
  • not dimming headlights when required to
  • violating lane restrictions
  • not using two rear vision mirrors
  • defective lighting devices
  • defective coupling devices for full trailer
  • improper chain attachment
  • improper towing connection
  • defective horn
  • dysfunctional speedometer
  • cargo not properly secured
  • insufficient working load limit
  • insufficient arrangement of tie downs
  • failure to inspect emergency equipment
  • improper placement of warning devices
  • required lamps are inoperative
  • frame is cracked, loose, sagging, or broken
  • insufficient cab parts
  • cab door missing or not fully intact
  • cab seats not secure
  • front bumper missing or broken
  • bolt holes widened on wheels
  • wheel fasteners loose
  • floor condition inadequate
  • seatbelt broken or missing
  • inadequate fire extinguisher
  • no spare fuses
  • parts not properly maintained or repaired
  • oil or grease leaking from outer wheel
  • driver’s view obstructed
  • failure to use hazards
  • damaged, discolored, or obstructed windshield
  • inadequate windows
  • emergency exit handle broken
  • fuel tank not properly secured
  • fuel tank pipe cap missing
  • defective defroster/defogger
  • exhaust system not properly located
  • exhaust discharge in wrong location
  • exhaust system not properly repaired
  • improper warning flag placement
  • intermodal container not secured

The list goes on. Considering that there are so many ways that drivers can receive violations, the driver should feel be as thorough as possible with every pre-trip inspection.

When An Accident Occurs

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If an accident occurs while the driver is on the job, a truck or fleet accident lawyer will look into the extent of the report that was filled out for the trip. Many of the lawyers will notice a 10 minute inspection as a red flag. If a driver only took 10 minutes for the inspection, it is clear that they skipped over a lot of things. During a deposition, a lawyer can ask the driver:

  • If their pre-inspection was completed
  • The parts that they inspected
  • In what manner the inspection was carried out
  • How long the inspection took
  • If it was recorded on FMSCSA compliant paperwork
  • How often the inspection is performed throughout the trip
  • If the driver has ever found any faulty parts during an inspection
  • When the last time was that a driver reported a vehicle as out-of-service
  • If they truly think they took enough time to perform a proper inspection
  • How this person had been trained to carry out a proper pre-trip inspection

The lawyer will ask these questions to prove that the driver was not following proper safety protocols. This is not a position any employed driver wants to find themselves in. It may seem like a nuisance to do these inspections with every trip, but the extra time is worth it if they are going to avoid the devastating possible outcomes.

How To Know Your Drivers Are Doing Proper Pre-trip Inspections

It is up the company to make sure that the drivers they employ are adequately trained and following proper procedures. With it instilled in the process, many problems will be avoided. Some suggestions for how to accomplish this are:

Train the drivers yourself. This way you can be sure that they understand what a thorough, adequate pre-trip inspection requires. You can also have a DOT officer pay a visit to do an example inspection for the drivers.

Never assume they know how to do it on their own. Not every driver may know how to do everything the right way. Make sure each driver you employ understands how to do every little thing, even down to changing a tire. People do not always know these things, and instead of telling you, they will simply skip over the items they know little about in their inspections.

Keep your drivers accountable. If you find something wrong with the vehicle that the driver did not report upon returning it, they should be responsible for it. Many will pay more attention to details if they know you are double checking their work.

Use technology. There are now electronic inspection aids on the market which provide the ability of managing the driver’s safety behavior and keeps scorecards for drivers to accent when they are doing a good job.

Make sure the problems are fixed after being in the shop. Many drivers have reported issues just to find the problem still existing after the vehicle went to the shop. This makes them feel like their efforts don’t make any difference. Make sure that when they find something, it is appreciated and taken care of.

What Does this Mean?

Company management needs to be on top of their drivers and instill a system that ensures that all pre-trip inspections are being done fully. The repercussions for not doing so will reflect very poorly on the business and could get the driver into a lot of trouble on top of putting their safety at risk.

It is very easy to get away with skimming over these inspections here and there and then be in real trouble the minute that something goes wrong. Don’t let it get to that point, make it a priority to carry out pre-trip inspections thoroughly and correctly.

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