The Ugly Truth about Pre-Trip Fleet Vehicle Inspection
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.
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:
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.
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
belt material exposed on the tire
tread or sidewall separated
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 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
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
emergency exit handle broken
fuel tank not properly secured
fuel tank pipe cap missing
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.
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 FMCSA 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.
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.
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.