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Oregon inspectors pursue problem truck drivers

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Oregon truck safety inspectors were at it again in a special exercise last July checking logbooks to make sure drivers don’t spend too much time behind the wheel.

During a five-day period of non-stop work at both of the Ashland weigh stations on Interstate 5, as well as the Klamath Falls and Bend weigh stations on U.S. 97, they inspected 676 drivers and placed 168 out-of-service for critical safety violations. Most violations were for driving after being on duty 14 hours, driving more than 11 hours, and holding logbooks that are not updated, improperly done, and/or falsified. Drivers placed out-of-service are not allowed to drive a truck again until their problem is corrected, which takes up to ten hours.

According to Oregon DOT Motor Carrier Transportation Division Safety Program Manager David McKane, the multi-day Southern Oregon exercise was one of six or seven undertaken every year.

“We focus on truck driver inspections as our key strategy for reducing truck-at-fault crashes,” McKane said. “Last year, there were 497 truck crashes in Oregon where the truck caused the wreck, and in 467 of them the truck driver caused it. Only 30 of those crashes were because of some mechanical problem.”

Analysts who study truck crashes find the most common causes are speeding, following too close, unsafe lane change, and fatigue. Law enforcement addresses those problems with traffic violations, but ODOT safety inspectors address the fatigue problem by checking logbooks.

It turns out that Oregon inspectors are showing everyone the way to effectively find problem drivers. According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) records, Oregon ranks well above every other western state in the rate that its inspectors find drivers with critical safety violations. For one recent 12-month period, the FMCSA lists Oregon with 56,450 truck inspections and a 15% rate for placing drivers out-of-service. Only Wyoming, with 19,447 inspections and an 11% driver out-of-service rate, comes close. And nationally, safety inspectors place drivers out-of-service at only a 6% rate.

One team of Oregon inspectors that has outperformed all others was recently nominated for an award available to only the best in North America. A five-man team called Oregon’s Safety Shift 4, which includes Harold Smith from the Motor Carrier Division’s Medford safety office, was nominated for this year’s Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance International Safety Team award. Oregon’s team specializes in finding the sneakiest truck drivers, particularly those trying to avoid inspections by driving the back roads in the middle of the night or parking somewhere to wait things out.

In just their first year as a team, Safety Shift 4 conducted over 2,100 inspections and compiled an overall driver out-of-service rate of 28%. But during the hours they worked the areas around special inspection exercises like the recent one in Southern Oregon, this group turned in a 52% driver out-of-service rate.

“Our training staff is nationally known to be among the best in North America,” McKane said. “We provide inspectors with advanced interview techniques and the observation skills they need with drivers.”

ODOT’s Motor Carrier Transportation Division is responsible for training and certifying the more than 500 inspectors at work in Oregon today.

In terms of tools, McKane notes that inspectors have access to DMV license suspension data and they use the federal Inspection Selection System, which exposes high-risk operators.

“We’ve also developed software unique to Oregon that lets inspectors see a list of citations, warnings, and weigh station records for any period of time,” McKane said. “By simply entering a license plate number,
an inspector can be well on the way to having what’s needed to verify a driver’s record of duty status.”

The latest crash reports suggest that ODOT’s efforts may be paying off.

McKane noted that truck crash totals for 2009 show that last year was remarkable. In Oregon, crashes involving trucks were down 28% and truck-at-fault crashes were down 26%. There were a total of only 906 truck crashes, 354 fewer than in 2008. It was determined that the truck was at-fault in 497 of the crashes, 172 fewer than in 2008.

“A check of crash records as far back as 1980 shows this is the first time that truck crashes have fallen below 1,000 total and truck-at-fault crashes have fallen below 500 total,” McKane said.

The end-of-year 2009 report includes the news that there was a decline in both injuries and fatalities. Truck crashes resulted in 32% fewer injuries and 15% fewer deaths in 2009. A total of 343 people were injured last year, 159 fewer than in 2008. A total of 29 people were killed, 5 fewer than in 2008.

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