Other Voices

Danger looms in annual road safety blitz

Many unsafe truck drivers will schedule a vacation June 7-9 to avoid annual International Roadcheck.
Many unsafe truck drivers will schedule a vacation June 7-9 to avoid annual International Roadcheck. Getty Images

One of the most dangerous times of the year to be on the road is coming next week, although a majority of drivers will never realize the risks because they were never warned.

International Roadcheck is a largely unnoticed annual three-day program in which law enforcement in the U.S. and throughout North America inspect as many commercial vehicles as possible, including tractor-trailers, buses and other heavy trucks, looking for safety violations.

The 2016 initiative will be June 7-9.

Although most of the public doesn’t even know Roadcheck exists, the trucking industry has been issuing related warnings to drivers and trucking companies for months.

Unfortunately, a lot of improperly licensed drivers and those who operate unsafe trucks avoid work during Roadcheck in order to escape the scrutiny of safety regulators.

The scenario of truckers deciding to stay away during this three-day stretch has become so common that it’s called a “Roadcheck Vacation” among trucking industry insiders.

What it really means is the safest days of the year to be on the highway come during Roadcheck, but the most dangerous are during the days that follow as unsafe vehicles and sketchy drivers return to the highway.

Two years ago, safety officials conducted roughly 70,000 individual Roadcheck inspections.

Even though drivers knew well ahead of time, the results were terrible.

More than 1,600 were ticketed for working longer than allowed by law, and more than 10,000 trucks were ordered off the road for safety violations.

It’s pretty scary when you consider that more than 2 percent of the drivers and nearly 15 percent of the trucks in this pre-announced inspection were found unfit for the highway.

When safety inspections come as a surprise, the results are even more troubling.

Maryland officials conducted an unannounced, one-day inspection in early May involving more than 400 vehicles, primarily tractor-trailers.

In the end, more than 25 percent were ordered off the road, including one big rig that weighed 12 tons more than the legal limit.

Police also issued 115 traffic citations and 251 warnings.

The average U.S. passenger vehicle weighs roughly 5,000 pounds, while semis can legally weigh 80,000 pounds.

When the two meet in a crash, the results often are deadly.

This is the reason we have state and federal laws designed to protect the public by maintaining strict qualifications for drivers and minimum safety standards for their trucks.

Unfortunately, the trucking industry is doing a great disservice to the public by issuing early warnings for inspections and flaunting the rules with so-called “Roadcheck Vacations.”

For the average driver, the smart way to approach Roadcheck is to be particularly careful in the days and weeks following the inspection period.

Although not every big rig will have safety problems, and not all drivers will be unqualified or improperly licensed, knowing about this program beforehand and taking the proper precautions afterward is the best way to protect yourself and your family.

Steve Laird is a Fort Worth attorney who represents victims of truck accidents and serious personal injuries.