Loudoun’s Not So Safe Trucks

Loudoun’s Not So Safe Trucks

Sheriff’s Office Unit Takes 50 Percent of Trucks Inspected Off the Road.

It’s not unusual to see a big truck pulled over on the side of the road and being inspected by a Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) deputy or Virginia State Police trooper. What’s staggering is the percentage of trucks taken out of service due to a safety violation.

On average, over 50 percent of trucks inspected each year by the LCSO are taken out of service for violations such as defective tires, defective suspension, defective breaks and unsecured loads.

Members of the LCSO’s Motor Carrier Inspection Team are responsible for detecting and inspecting unsafe commercial motor vehicles, and regularly pull trucks over to inspect them for safety violations.

In the first six months of the year, 363 of 723 trucks inspected had to be taken off the road because of safety violations — a high number by any measure. In the same time frame, Virginia State Police officers inspected an additional 259 commercial motor vehicles in Loudoun County and placed 26 vehicles, approximately 10 percent, out of service, Sergeant Terry Licklider, State Police Motor Carrier Safety Supervisor for Northern Virginia, said.

By design, State Police inspections are mainly walk arounds, whereas LCSO’s inspections can be intrusive, lengthy, and often result in a deputy on his or her back under a vehicle as part of the inspection. Construction vehicles are a particular area of interest, but all commercial vehicles are in LCSO’s scope.

The inspections review equipment for defects including suspensions, tires, brakes and cracked frames among other possible safety issues. Photo/LCSO

According to AAA Mid-Atlantic, about 40 percent of trucks inspected by Virginia State Police throughout the Commonwealth were taken off the road by in 2014.  Nationally, 20.3 percent of trucks stopped for inspection are taken off the road, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

Some violations can be fixed on the side of the road. Others require the truck be towed to a storage yard or service facility, Deputy First Class Josh Brumbaugh of the LCSO Motor Carrier Inspection team said. The team is comprised of five full-time deputies who also have other duties besides inspections.

One reason for the high percentage of trucks taken off the road is that inspectors look for trucks they think may have something wrong with them, Dale Bennett, CEO and President of the Virginia Trucking Association, said. Officers use different tools and data to select trucks they think may be in violation of inspection standards in order to make the most of their resources, Bennett said.

“We fully support that type of targeted inspection selection process because it focuses your enforcement resources on the carriers that need them,” Bennett said.

LCSO has a reputation for being strict when it comes to safety inspections, Brumbaugh said, and Loudoun’s truck inspection statistics have ranked among the highest in the state.

The unit reviews paperwork associated with the driver and the truck to ensure they have proper licensing, registration, a current medical card, and other CDL requirements. Photo/LCSO

The Motor Carrier Inspection Team reviews paperwork associated with the driver and the truck to ensure they have proper licensing, registration, a current medical card, and other requirements. Photo/LCSO

“Fortunately, Maryland and Virginia are maintaining a laser-like focus on ‘highway safety through diligent inspections and enforcement of commercial vehicle laws'”, according to AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs John B. Townsend. “Large trucks play a critical role in regional economy in the Washington metro area, as well as in the nation’s economy, and their numbers are likely to increase dramatically across the metro region in coming years,” he added.

Each time a truck or trucking company is inspected by the LCSO, the inspection is documented in a state and federal system that tracks each company’s safety record, Brumbaugh said. Each is assigned a safety score based on all inspections and safety violations. The higher the score, the worse the company safety record.

If FMCSA notices a company is a habitual safety violation offender, it will place the company on notice and will initiate random visits by federal inspectors. If the company’s safety score does not improve, FMCSA can revoke the company’s operating authority, meaning the entire company is prohibited from operating any of its vehicles on any public highway in the nation until the agency re-instates the company’s operating authority, Brumbaugh said.

Although there is no tracking of how many trucks pass through Loudoun County with state tags versus out of state tags, Brumbaugh says most of the trucks LCSO encounters are from Virginia, as there is no interstate highway that runs through Loudoun County, therefore limiting the amount of interstate traffic.

Trucks are inspected once a year to determine if they are safe and road worthy, Brumbaugh said. Drivers who continue to drive trucks deemed out of service by Motor Carrier Officers can be fined up to $2,500, a suspension of the driver’s commercial driver’s license and other penalties and fines against the trucking company.

Fines are collected by the courts, and the money either goes to the federal or state government, or both depending on the charge, Brumbaugh said.