Andy Blair was a municipal police officer for 26 years and received DOT training through the Pennsylvania State Police. He inspected trucks for his last 11 years on the force. Blair is DOT-certified in cargo, tank and hazmat, and he also was a weighmaster. Now retired from law enforcement, he operates DOT Checkups, a York, Pennsylvania company that fleets hire to inspect their trucks before they hit the road. He conducts 300 to 400 inspections of all levels every year.
Here’s what he wants drivers and managers to know about roadside inspections.
1 – A tidy cab can often mean ‘move along.’ “I can’t inspect every truck that comes my way so I have to use my discretion and experience. Certainly, I look at your BASIC scores, and maybe you’ve got a light out – that’s a no-brainer – but beyond that I look inside the truck. I realize that some guys are on the road quite a bit. I get that. And some of them, to a degree, live in their truck or certainly spend a fair amount of time in it. But when I see what looks like a pigsty on the inside of the truck, my thoughts are ‘that’s how this guy is going to maintain his truck,’ assuming he’s the operator. Even if he’s not, it may be an indication of how well he keeps after the company to fix things. I’m not talking a couple items of trash or a McDonald’s bag laying around. We’re not expecting that Mr. Clean just came by and visited you. I’m talking about something that looks bad and smells bad. We’re talking some heavy disarray, not just something thrown in a corner. So, right away I’m thinking, ‘Okay, I get it. This guy really doesn’t keep after things too well.’ The chances of me finding something wrong with the truck are probably better.”
2 – Make your documents easy for me to inspect. “I’ve stopped you, I’ve pulled you in, and I’ve made a quick assessment of what you truck looks like. I’m now asking for your documents. If you’re one of those guys that just can’t find your stuff, or you’re handing me papers from 2009, 2010 and 2011, then you know what? Pull it in; you’re going to be here for a while. Probably the best presentations that I see are when the driver takes the time to put the documents in something like a ring binder – medical card, registration, all that. It makes it easier to look through. If it’s a rainy day, I don’t have to worry about dropping them and the wind blowing it away. It just keeps it neater and cleaner, and it looks good. If so, you may be on your way. I stopped a lot of trucks and I didn’t inspect every one of them. If a guy looked like his truck was in good shape and his documents looked good, too, then chances of me going further were diminished.”
3 – Attitude counts. “It’s totally my discretion as an officer who I pick to inspect. Don’t do or say anything to volunteer yourself [for an inspection] by doing dumb stuff. I don’t want to hear: ‘What’d ya stop me for? I didn’t do anything wrong.’ If you can do anything to mitigate the chances or likelihood of being held up and inspected, it’s probably worth your time to do that, even if you don’t feel like it. At this point, I’ve looked in your cab, checked your documents, and seen how you handle yourself and how you answer my questions. Right now, I’m going to make my decision: throw you back in the pond or reel you in, which brings us to the next item…”
4 – I don’t have a quota for citations, but I have a quota for inspections. “Even if you look good, I still may inspect your truck, because I need to get some inspections done. There are never any requirements to write a ticket, but there are requirements to do a minimum number of inspections [per quarter] to keep my credentials current. There are times that you may have a great truck and you have all your documents and the inspector still says, “We’re doing a level one.” That’s just how it goes.”
5 – If you’re chosen for inspection, grit your teeth and go through it with some grace. If you’ve got a good truck, you might get an ‘atta-boy’ as I like to call it. The more you cooperate with the officer, the better you’ll get through the inspection, because the officer has the full discretion to write, or not to write, and to cite you or cite the company. It’s not etched in stone, but usually the equipment stuff I would write to the company. The pre-trip stuff, I would cite to the driver. Once I’ve decided that we’re going through with an inspection, I ask ‘is there anything wrong with your truck today that you know from your pre-trip inspection?’ If the answer is ‘no, I’ll say, ‘Good for you. I’m going to do your pre-trip again.’ I’ve had owner-operators who, when I asked for their fire extinguisher and triangles, didn’t know where they were. Some triangles would be missing or the fire extinguishers would be covered with dirt and discharged. On the other hand, every driver that told me right up front, “I did my pre-trip today and I found this and this wrong,” I’ve never written a citation. I might write the company but I didn’t write the driver. I understand that between the terminal and the inspection area a light can go out, and so I don’t get all that excited. But you can’t tell me that you left the terminal 80 miles ago and that your tire went completely smooth in 80 miles.”
In summary, Blair says: “A lot of this is common sense. If the truck looks half decent, if the driver is prepared, if they have their documents, if they have everything ready to go, and they’re decent about it, have a good attitude – even if they’re gritting their teeth – they reduce the likelihood and chances of the officer going further. I can’t say it prohibits it, but you have a better chance of not being held up and getting on your way faster.”