You got your start in law enforcement in 1980. How has trucking enforcement changed in the last 40-plus years?
I think enforcement over the years has changed primarily in the way we look at the vehicles. Many federal rules were developed based on truck crashes and the belief that many of these crashes were caused by bad equipment on the trucks. Early on, equipment was an issue, but once a standard inspection was developed we saw an improvement in maintenance of the equipment. The focus today is more on drivers because we know they are the cause of most accidents. I think that as technologies change, we’ll continue to see that focus change.
What do you think is the biggest thing the trucking industry misunderstands about law enforcement when it comes to safety?
I think probably the biggest thing is the people in law enforcement working the road tend to see a lot of the negatives. We see all the accidents, deaths and injuries. So when we’re talking safety, those are in the back of our mind and our goal is to prevent those things from occurring. I think for some in the industry, the bottom line is that dollar. But for the majority of the carriers that I’ve come across, safety is a major factor. The common goal once again is safety.
You put in a lot of time with CHP. Based on your experience, what advice do you have for fleet people to make things go smoother for them and their drivers when dealing with law enforcement?
Just be prepared. Understand what the officer is going to be looking and asking for during an enforcement stop or inspection. If the driver is well-organized, he or she can make that enforcement stop much quicker. You know that the officer is going to ask for your driver and vehicle paperwork and insurance, and they may ask for your bill of lading. I’ve seen drivers walk in with a binder and everything in that binder is organized and up to date, the officer can work through it relatively quickly and then the driver will be on their way. The same goes with fleet management. You must have a very clear understanding of what deficiencies enforcement is finding on your vehicles. A good maintenance program helps prepare you up front and reduces the amount of time or difficulties with enforcement, which in turn increases productivity and efficiency.
Do you view what you’re doing now with PrePass Safety Alliance as an extension of what you were doing with the California Highway Patrol?
Yes, very much so. The common denominator here is safety. With the CHP, our goal was to make sure our highways were safe, whether it was a truck or passenger car. Enforcement officers are looking at the drivers, the equipment, their safety ratings, and making sure they are properly credentialed. PrePass does very much the same thing. We make the officer more efficient by making many of those checks for them. It allows trucks that meet all the state criteria to bypass, which is huge for reducing congestion around the facilities, which can sometimes lead to issues with collisions.
How does doing this make things easier and more efficient for truck fleets?
For one, the truck is not pulling into every facility as it’s traveling down the road. This saves the carrier time, reduces expenses and makes them more efficient. The focus then turns to those vehicles coming into the facilities that may not have the same level of safety practices that bypass qualified carriers do.
Let’s talk about where enforcement is heading in the near term and long term. Specifically, the relatively new Level VIII inspection category from Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, and well as universal ID, or UID for short. What are they?
The Level VIII inspection was approved by CVSA in 2017, but it’s not being used yet. It’s an examination of a truck and driver in an electronic inspection procedure as the truck is coming down the road. It’s going to provide certain information to the weigh station up ahead, such as GPS coordinates, electronic validation of who’s operating the vehicle, the driver’s license class and endorsements, the status, medical examiner’s certificate, etc. It also will report the driver’s record of duty status, or hours of service compliance, and the operating authority. The concept is for the information to be electronically or wirelessly sent forward to the weigh station.
How is this going to be accomplished and how soon could we see Level VIII rolled out?
There are a number of ways it may be accomplished in the future. I don’t think we’re there yet today. The challenge is that each vehicle will have to have the technology to send the information, and then the state will have to have a way to receive it. So there is a fairly large cost associated with this approach for the states to get the proper equipment and then maintain it over a number of years. There will also be a similar cost to industry. Another problem is, in general, commercial enforcement programs around the nation are not provided a lot of funding other than federal grants. So the challenge will be to get that funding out to the states.
So, in your estimation, how soon could we start seeing this? A couple of years, or do you think it’s many years away?
I personally believe it’s many years away. There are some who believe it’s just a few years away. Either way, many questions need to be answered first. CVSA and the federal government have a vision of how inspections should be done in the future. But the volume of trucks on the road today is probably well beyond the ability of the states to run a program like this effectively. However, PrePass is looking at how we can assist because of the way we have bridged the gap between trucking and enforcement with the bypass program. But before we reach that point, we need to make sure that the information being passed along electronically is secure. Government agencies must ensure they are not passing along information that’s going to violate any of the privacy laws for the drivers themselves. Another big question is whether motor carriers would receive credit for every clean Level VIII inspection. Those inspections would happen much more often and could impact many carriers’ CSA scores. Industry, CVSA and government entities have talked about Alternate Compliance and credit for inspections for years and it has stalled; this would be an excellent time to finalize those discussions.
What’s been the impetus for doing this?
When you look at the percentage of trucks that are inspected by law enforcement at the roadside it’s very small. So I think what they’re trying to do is increase the number of inspections so that they have more information on the trucks traveling down the road. For example, CVSA reports that they inspected a very small percentage of all the trucks driving down the road. During those inspections, if you look at the out-of-service rate as a whole across the nation, it tends to vary between 20 percent and 25 percent. So if all of a sudden they start doing these automated inspections on all CMVs, what do they do with the trucks that have a violation noted or are placed out of service? And what impact will that have on motor carriers, on vehicles traveling down the road and interstate commerce? These details must be addressed before implementing a program.
And how does UID play into this?
For Level VIII to really work, you need UID. So what they’re looking for is a means on each and every vehicle, a single point that will identify that truck. The VIN number is one example of UID that could be used to identify the truck to enforcement. The VIN number is something that’s very specific to each and every individual vehicle out there, so it is probably the best single point of identification on every vehicle today. It will maintain the history of that vehicle from its birth to the day it goes to a wrecking yard. License plates are less reliable because they can be moved from vehicle to vehicle. You see locations where they’re using license plate readers, but you do not know if it belongs on that truck. However, with the UID, it’s going to be transmitted electronically in some fashion. And the belief is that there’s no way that anyone could alter that information. So enforcement can identify the truck or the vehicle with more confidence.
This article originally appeared in the September/October, 2021 issue of Caltrux magazine, a publication of the California Trucking Association.