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Safety Inspections – Part 1

Two quotes, same problem. Any truck officer worth his salt has heard this line from a truck driver who did not have a safety inspection “…but I have a USDOT number!” . Any truck officer who has worked alongside non-truck officers has heard this line from his peers “…he has a USDOT number, he does not need a safety inspection”. Both quotes exemplify the age old problem of truck law…the game of telephone and misconception. For the next couple weeks, this blog will look at safety inspections, the misunderstandings surrounding them, and mistakes made by enforcement.

Start here – the Illinois Vehicle Code requires certain trucks and trailers to have a safety lane inspection twice a year. The difference is some vehicles are exempt because they are interstate carriers. However, they are not exempt from a safety inspection. First up this week, interstate carriers.

Interstate carriers are subject to the rules contained in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). There are many different criteria that satisfy the federal definition of interstate carriers, but once these are met, the FMCSR takes precedent when conflict exists between it and individual state law.

This is for good reason…uniformity is crucial in trucking. It is also understandable that many trucks in interstate trucking are not home for maintenance on a timely basis as the vehicle could be anywhere in the nation. In order to compensate for this, the FMCSR allows interstate carriers to perform an“annual periodic inspection” (API). Simply put, the FMCSR requires that the API be performed by a “qualified mechanic” (Part 396.19) and lists minimum periodic inspections standards which must be met in order to satisfy the API.

Once the test is completed, the mechanic places a sticker on the vehicle and dates it. There are dozens of varieties of stickers that are used for the API. There is no standard sticker required to be displayed, nor is there a required place to mount it on the vehicle. When the mechanic dates the sticker, the test is considered valid for one year from that date. The date listed is not the expiration date.

The problem comes when intrastate carriers, whether intentionally or not, purport themselves to be interstate carriers. Consider this scenario:

Bill, the owner of Bill’s Trucking (fictional), owns 10 power units and 10 semi-trailers. The company is based out of a small Chicago suburb. The trucks never cross the state line, and Bill registers his vehicles with flat weight plates. Bill does not pay IFTA. Why? Because he is a classic intrastate carrier.

One day Bill is at the local watering hole. He is talking with his buddy, Jim, who also owns some trucks. Jim tells Bill that if he has USDOT numbers on the side of the truck, he does not have to go to the state safety lane twice a year with each of his 20 vehicles, as required by the IVC. Bill does the math…$30 per inspection, per vehicle, twice a year equals $1200 saved. Because Bill knows a lot about truck maintenance, Jim convinces him he is a qualified mechanic. Jim also tells Bill he can order the USDOT authority, API stickers, and inspection checklists online for a few hundred dollars. Bill decides to go ahead and do his own inspections and display the USDOT number/API stickers on the sides of the vehicles. He is a bon-a-fide interstate carrier…so says Jim.

Wrong. Bill is still an intrastate carrier and required to go to the safety lane twice a year like everyone else. While the attempt to save a few bucks is noble, the fact is that you can register and obtain a USDOT (aka a “census number”) as an intrastate carrier just like an interstate carrier can. Simply displaying the census numbers and an API sticker on the side of the vehicles does not exonerate Bill from safety lane as an intrastate carrier.

Also, when Bill applies for his USDOT number, he must claim whether he wants intrastate or interstate authority. If he lies on his paperwork, well, there are consequences for that if he gets caught. All it takes is one bad crash with personal injuries or a fatality and enforcement will be crawling through his records and paperwork.

Why is Bill so intent to risk so much just to avoid the bi-annual state safety lane test? Tune in next week…

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