On the Road

What do we learn from Roadcheck?

July 22, 2011

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With another Roadcheck event now some weeks behind us, a few questions linger about this annual ritual. What's Roadcheck all about, anyway? What do we learn from the exercise? And why are nearly one quarter of the truck brakes inspected still put out of service?


The results from Roadcheck 2011 were reported to be the best ever. We had the lowest overall out-of-service rate recorded since the week-long blitzes began back in 1988. So.

Do motorists today feel any safer driving down the road beside a big truck? I doubt it. Are drivers, mechanics and fleet managers across the country slapping each other on the back in congratulatory acknowledgement of a job well done? I don't think so. Are the cops and enforcement administrators crowing about the great job they are doing ridding our highways and byways of ne'er-do-well truckers?

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You just know if the results were bad, the industry would take the rap. But when the results are good, what we hear from enforcement is how good a job they are doing keeping the industry's feet to the fire. If the results were really bad, we'd hear a loud and clear call for more resources to strengthen enforcement. We don't get much of the credit at the best of times, and risk taking a big hit if things go south on us.

Other than giving enforcement something to crow about, what does Roadcheck do for industry?

It's a snapshot of a week out of a year when we know the chances of being inspected at roadside are just marginally higher than usual for carriers that operate on Interstate highways. What about the larger percentage of trucks operating in cities or on county roads beyond the scope of Roadcheck? Are long-haul highway carriers the only crowd the truck cops worry about?

I'm not at all convinced the snapshot results are in any way useful to industry. It's not like it establishes a benchmark we could be measured against at any time other than the first week in June. Were the annual scores used as a barometer to set the standard for CSA measurements for the balance of the year, it might be of some value to trucking.

The industry apparently doesn't take Roadcheck very seriously, either. If it did, the out-of-service rates would be closer to zero, I think. It wouldn't much take to pull equipment in and have it checked over before the annual 72-hour blitz begins, but I can't see fleets changing their maintenance practices just to score better during the week of the blitz. Nor should they. The better fleets know the value of running fit equipment and having compliant drivers aboard without being reminded of the fact one week out of the year.

Besides, the fleets on the lower end of the food chain aren't going to change their ways for just one week a year. Truck maintenance is one of those deals that when you're in, you're in up to the handle. When you're not, you're not. It's that bunch we need to worry about.

100 Percent OOS

I'd like to know why the out of service rate isn't 100 percent. This year, the vehicle OOS rate for Level 1 inspections was 19.3%, which means that 80.7% of the 70-some-thousand inspections they did during Roadcheck were a waste of time. Why are we throwing money down the drain inspecting perfectly good trucks? For that matter, what's in it for a carrier that runs good equipment and routinely passes inspections to be held up at a scale for 45 minutes to an hour so the cops can crow about the great job they're doing?

I think the inspections should be targeted at the carriers needing it most. It's easier than ever now with CSA. And a five-minute walk-around would be an effective enough triage process to sort out which trucks warrant a closer look. These guys inspect trucks all day long. Don't tell me they can't tell the good from the bad in about 30 seconds flat.

Yeah, a truck or two may get through with a light out, or a brake out of adjustment, but does that constitute an imminent threat? No. Not given the fact that 22% of the trucks out there have brake adjustment problems. And that number has remained practically unchanged since the numbers of automatic brake adjusters in service overtook manual slack adjusters.

Why we still have a 22% OOS rate with automatic brake adjusters is another blog for another day. Watch this spot for more on that subject.

In the meantime, do you feel any better knowing the national vehicle OOS rate for the first week in June was 19.3% compared to 20% for 2010? Does it serve industry well to know that we're 0.7% safer than we were last year?

FMCSA spends more than $100 million annually on MCSAP-funded truck and bus inspections -- not a lot in the grand scheme of things -- and while roadside inspections provide inspectors with a glimpse of how carriers are performing generally, I think the highly publicized once-a-year blitz has some greater purpose other than highway safety.

I suppose if nothing else Roadcheck keeps the good fleets honest, for all the good that does us or the motoring public.


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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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