Coffee with a Cop – Traffic Violations
Written by Jim Skiera
Do you know what specific traffic violations are more likely to get your employee(s) pulled over?
The initial thought for this article was to talk to an officer about reasons drivers are stopped while driving vehicles commonly used by tree care companies (chip truck, bucket truck, dump trucks with trailers, etc.). We also wanted to find out what violations cause officers to tag vehicles out of service. Out of service violations become very costly for the business when you add up fines, repair bills, court and legal fees, and downtime that leads to lost revenue.
To gain insight I spoke with six different officers from multiple police and sheriff departments in the Denver metro area. I started each interview with the same question:
Of the commercial vehicles that you’ve pulled over in the last month/quarter/year, what suspected violation caused the pull over?
The consistent answer from each of the patrol officers was they don’t treat commercial vehicles and drivers any differently than passenger vehicles. The officers I spoke with stated they primarily look for drivers of any vehicle committing the moving violations that regularly cause serious accidents and injuries.
The top five infractions that are most likely to get a patrol officer’s attention and get a driver pulled over are:
- Speeding: by far the top violation that gets drivers pulled over is speeding. More than 40% of all traffic stops are related to speeding. It is also the number one reason for serious accidents. Statistics show for every 100 speeding tickets issued there are 14 fewer auto crashes and five fewer auto accident-related injuries.
- Visible Equipment Violations: Broken or inoperable lights, broken or missing mirrors and other inoperable safety equipment required for drivers to communicate with or see other drivers on the road.
- Cell Phone Use While Driving; Distracted driving is unsafe driving.
- Following Too Closely or Improper Lane Changes: These two violations cause accidents by not allowing for proper braking distance and or response time of other drivers to safely avoid collisions.
- Hazardous or Erratic Driving: Failure to stop, swerving in and out of lanes, drifting over the centerline, etc. are signals that a driver may be impaired, possibly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, falling asleep at the wheel, or texting while driving.
The first officers I spoke to were Patrol officers of which traffic stops are one of many responsibilities of theirs. When they do make a stop, the time spent with each driver is limited and they are not trained to do commercial vehicle inspections. They have limited experience with tagging vehicles out of service. Following one of my interviews, it was recommended I speak to an officer that performs roadside commercial vehicle inspections if I wanted information on why vehicles are tagged out of service.
I eventually was introduced to Deputy Chad Davey of the Douglas County Sherriff’s Office. Deputy Davey is responsible for Commercial Motor Vehicle Inspections in Douglas County. He sets up mobile inspection sites around the county, on county roads and highways and all commercial vehicles are required to stop to be inspected before they can proceed.
Officer Davey follows an inspection protocol that is used for all inspections. The first part of the inspection is about the driver. He checks for current and proper license, vehicle registration, insurance, drug or alcohol use and driving logs. The second part is a complete vehicle equipment inspection.
Question: What is the most common infraction you see with tree care related commercial vehicles during roadside inspections?
Answer: Deputy Davey said he could not specifically say there was a “most common” issue with tree service trucks. He said inspections are comprehensive and he has inches of paperwork of violations. Check the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) website of North American Level 1 Inspection procedures.
He did give a few examples of common violations he finds with tree and landscape vehicles pulling trailers. The first is nonfunctioning electric emergency trailer brakes. Two things are common, one the battery for the brakes is not working, or the brakes themselves do not engage when tested. He said it’s common for drivers to just check to make sure everything is hooked up, but they don’t check to see if the emergency braking system works. Deputy Davey said probably half the drivers he meets during inspections don’t know they need to test the trailer brakes.
Another common violation is breakaway chains that are damaged from being dragged or are not rated to accommodate the weight of the trailer. He said chains on trailers get damaged. If an inspector sees the chain is worn more than 1/5 its diameter it’s a problem. He also said when chains are replaced, they need to be replaced with chains of the same rating, and often are not.
Question: What can a driver do to avoid being pulled over and having their vehicle tagged Out of Service during an inspection?
Answer: Roadside Commercial Vehicle Inspections are mandatory so you can’t avoid being pulled over. What you can do is limit your chance of being tagged out of service by performing daily inspections, completing inspection reports, maintaining your driver’s license and certificates and other required documentation, and keeping vehicles in safe working order. Have required documentation stored somewhere it is easily available when asked for by the inspector.
Another recommendation for business owners is to include training about what is included in roadside inspections, so drivers understand what the inspectors are reviewing during an inspection. This should be specific to the vehicles employees are using and the state, federal and local restrictions for those vehicles.
Managing the risks for your business is an ongoing task. One area of significant risk is with your fleet and the drivers using the vehicles in that fleet. Preventing incidents that cause damage, injuries, and costly downtime requires commitment by all involved. It starts with the owner providing well maintained and properly operating equipment then complimented with qualified and licensed drivers trained to use and maintain the equipment efficiently, effectively, and safely.
If you have specific questions about roadside inspections, contact your local law enforcement department. They can assist with inspection checklists and regional laws and regulations. If you need help with driver safety and/or fleet management, contact ArboRisk to learn more about their Thrive Risk Management Safety Package!