1 in 4 commercial vehicles taken off the road for violations in DPS campaign

A large truck drives south on I-35 in Austin on July 6, 2017. A DPS enforcement campaign last month found one in four commercial vehicles they inspected had a safety violation that took them out of service. (KXAN/Chris Davis)
A large truck drives south on I-35 in Austin on July 6, 2017. A DPS enforcement campaign last month found one in four commercial vehicles they inspected had a safety violation that took them out of service. (KXAN Photo/Chris Davis)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A recent traffic safety push across the state yielded some surprising results: nearly one in four trucks, buses and other commercial vehicles inspected over a three-day period last month by a state agency had a violation that took them off the road.

The Texas Department of Public Safety on Thursday released the results from their participation in Roadcheck 2017, a nationwide drive to inspect commercial vehicles.

From June 6 to June 8, DPS troopers inspected more than 8,000 commercial vehicles across the state. Close to 2,000, or 23.6 percent, of those inspections, resulted in an out-of-service violation, meaning the driver had to have the issue fixed before hitting the road again.

It’s not hard to find someone in Central Texas with an opinion about sharing the road with commercial vehicles.

“In my mind when you see two trucks right next to each other I call it an elephant race,” Henning Schmidt said while gassing up his car at a station off Interstate 35 Thursday evening. “And the people behind them don’t really go anywhere.”

The frustration is palpable for a lot of drivers who use major highways multiple times a day, even for those who recognize the vital role tractor-trailers and other commercial vehicles play in the American economy.

Although the percentage of out-of-service violations recorded across the country in the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s Roadcheck initiative has dropped considerably since it began 30 years ago, it has still hovered between 20 and 25 percent since the mid-2000s.

“A lot of the out-of-service violations can be minor things that may not have any effect on how the vehicle is functioning,” Cpl. Chad Martinka with the Austin Police Department’s commercial vehicle enforcement unit said.

APD also participated in the Roadcheck program this year, but did not have the number of violations they issued on hand. Some of them are counted in the DPS stats.

Martinka’s unit inspects commercial vehicles every day, checking for things like properly secured loads, adequate tire tread and functioning brakes. The entire process can take upward of 45 minutes to an hour, and the 1-in-4 violation rate is about what they find on a regular basis, too.

An out-of-service violation might be as innocuous as a brake light being out, Martinka said. Or it can be as serious as the brakes themselves not working.

“We’ve had some where one of the officers stopped the vehicle,” he said. “While he was checking the front axle the guy was turning it and the steering axle just snapped in half.”

It often comes down to the individual companies, Martinka said. “You have a lot of companies that run very good trucks. You know, they take pride in their equipment, so they’re going to keep it up.”

He also cautioned against making too many judgments about commercial vehicles in general.

“It’s just like any other thing,” he said. “I mean, you have cars that are coming down the road, there’s going to be issues with some vehicles as well.”

APD has 15 people certified to inspect trucks and buses in a commercial vehicle unit of 17 people. In order to make more of a dent in the number of drivers with out-of-service violations cruising Texas streets, Martinka said, the solution isn’t more targeted enforcement initiatives like Roadcheck.

“It’s just going to have to have more officers,” he said.

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