Advice for commercial motor vehicle inspectors to live by
Although I’ve started a new job, Commercial Motor Vehicle Compliance is not new to me.
I’ve moved on to the next phase in my life since retiring from state law enforcement after 31 years in the commercial motor vehicle enforcement field. However, I did not stray very far from what I’ve been so comfortable doing for all those years. I’m now working for a firm, Collision Specialists, Inc., that specializes in crash analysis, accident reconstruction, and now a new field for them: Commercial Motor Vehicle Compliance.
In my new position I see reports from inspectors all over North America, many of those inspections being post-crash in nature, which leads me to the point of this article. During my commercial motor vehicle enforcement career, here have been three key principles that I have always strived for and encourage all inspectors to live by: Thoroughness, Accuracy, and Quality.
Thoroughness: I’ve seen in my career – and I’m sure many of you have had experiences with -all types of commercial motor vehicle inspectors. There are those who want to just make eight hours, get a number, and generate a piece of paper. On the other end of the spectrum are those who have a real sense of purpose, want to make a genuine difference in highway safety, and take the utmost pride in their work. I’ve counted myself in the latter group.
Inspectors should constantly be aware that their inspections may show up later in major litigation, audits, and even as exhibits in Congressional oversight hearings. On my inspections, I have been mindful of the potential consequences of missing serious defects or violations. Later, if that vehicle or driver gets into a crash, my oversight or omission could somehow be determined to have been a contributing factor to the accident.
Accuracy: With the implementation of FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) program accuracy, insofar as documenting commercial motor vehicle safety violations, is taking top priority in the algorithm that is the backbone of the program.
In my opinion, computers are both an enhancement and detriment to the commercial motor vehicle inspection process.
- Computers help inspectors more accurately identify carriers, provide an immediate picture of a carrier’s compliance history, and generate a legible inspection report rather that a handwritten report.
- However, computers can also make inspectors lazy and complacent by allowing them to rely on a quick pick-list of violations. Some inspectors will see a keyword in a pick-list and choose a violation without having read the related regulatory section in the book. This can lead to the inaccurate application of a code section that may not even apply to the condition the inspector is trying to document. And as many motor carrier safety directors can attest to, the “points” assessed under CSA for one code section versus another can be significant.
Quality: If an inspector is thorough and accurate, then overall quality will generally follow. The quality aspect of commercial motor vehicle inspections is comprehensive in nature and encompasses the two key elements above as well as inspector attitude, drive, and an agency’s commitment to the process.
Quality to me also includes such things as proper grammar, spelling, violation descriptions, and notes on inspection reports that are clear and complete, but concise and without ambiguity.
Overall timely responses to motor carrier industry concerns and inquiries are also important, especially insofar as inspection report challenges. I’ve seen a minority of inspectors who take offense to inquiries about their reports; this type of attitude is detrimental to the overall process, since most motor carriers want to comply and inspectors must understand that effective compliance requires a partnership with industry.
In closing, I encourage all inspectors to strive for excellence and try to do the very best job possible. Take the extra steps to remain technically competent, stay current with regulatory changes, and find a mentor that you trust to assist in mastering your skills.
About the author
John E. Harrison retired at the rank of Captain from the Georgia Department of Public Safety and is a Past-President of Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (2007-2008). He is currently employed as a crash analyst and Commercial Motor Vehicle compliance expert with Collision Specialists, Inc. based in Gainesville, Georgia.