Safety Inspections – The Right and Wrong Ways
Many truck drivers treat safety inspections as either not important or optional. However a professional truck driver understands that proper equipment operations is paramount to the truck being operated on the highways and not place the driver, the traveling public and the cargo at risk. Being a responsible truck driver means that the driver will pick up the designed cargo at the appointed time and deliver it where it is suppose to be when it is suppose to be there and in the condition it is suppose to be in. This can not happen if the there is an accident or a breakdown on the side of the road.
As the root of being able to do his/her job properly and not endanger other uses of the highway or even people living and working along side the route being traveled, the driver should ensure that the truck and trailer is in proper condition.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandates that drivers complete a detailed daily safety inspection, indication the inspection on company designated forms and that records of such inspections be maintained by the company for review if necessary.
Long before the federal requirements were in place, truck drivers would do inspections – however, different drivers always had their own standards of what was necessary. Some would check the oil and radiator water level, turn on all lights and walk around the rig checking that lights worked. Many would ‘kick the tires’ to see if any were flat. Some used a tire thumper. In reality, this kind of inspection is deficient at best and ineffective in detecting many hazardous conditions.
The use of a form or check list is the only way to insure that you do not miss anything. Just a few of the key inspections a professional truck driver will repeatedly and consistently perform:
Low Air Pressure Alarms If t.he truck has been parked and all air has bleed from the system, then the driver will be able to determine that the low air pressure alarm is working. However, if for some reason (any reason) the system has normal operating pressure in the system, the driver should, with the parking brakes set and the engine OFF, repeatedly pump the brakes to use up the air in the tanks until the low air pressure light/buzzer go into alarm. Seems stupid? Well, going down the road at 75 miles per hour and discovering you do not have enough air pressure is a bad time to find out the warning system was not functioning properly.
Kicking Tires / Tire Thumper. Ninety nine out of 100 drivers will not admit this, but there is really only one way yo know if your tires are at the proper air pressure – a tire gauge. Is it convenient to check 18 tires for the right pressure, especially at 5 in the morning when it is cold and raining? NO. But thumping or kicking a tire will only tell you (at best) that the tire is not flat. It will not tell you it only has 70 lbs of air when it should have 110lbs. A low tire is a major safety threat. When a tire is lower then optimum air pressure, the sideways will excessively flex when operating at highway speeds. This sidewall flexing will cause a temperature buildup inside the tire. As the temperatures increase the tire is much more likely to separate the tread section from the tire body. The result is that now there are large pieces of flying tire on the road way which could strike another car/truck or leaves the ‘alligator’ in the middle of the highway which other drivers will now have to avoid. Also, since this will result in a flat tire on the truck or trailer, this could cause the load to shift causing a catastrophic accident. At the minimum, tire air pressure should be checked every few days and never less then once a week – convenient or not. Tire tread condition should also be checked each day looking for any deterioration or signs the tire may be breaking down.
Lights: Among the easiest and yet one of the most important safety checks. The FMCSA actually specifies that all lights affixed to the outside of every truck and trailer must be operational. This includes not only the obvious headlights, brake lights and turn signals – but also all forward and rear marker lights. These are easily checked by simply turning on all lights including Hazard Flashers and then walking around the truck and looking. While a technically proper check would best involve two people – one in the cab and one outside, it is sufficiently possible for a single driver to do this. And while we are on the subject, you even notice the guys with dozens and dozens of lights on their trucks to light them up like a Christmas Tree? The regulations, as stated, are that all lights must be operational at all times – not just the factor lights. Therefore, before you decorate your truck, realize that if there is a problem and one or more of these extra lights are burnt out that you can be ticketed for the offense.
Air Lines and Light Connectors: It is not enough to think these are properly attached and in good shape. You really must take the time to reach out and touch them. Check that they have not vibrated loose and are not suffering from and damages. Both the tractor’s and the trailer’s glad hands should be inspected. Insure the electrical/light connector is properly seated in place.
Under the Hood. Yes, you should check the fluid levels, but also take a few minutes with a flashlight to check belts and hoses. Assuming the engine is off, check belts for proper tension and look for any cracking or other defects. Hoses should not be leaking or have signs of bulges or infiltrations. Even in daylight a flashlight will help you spot things that may be in the shade of the cab, hood or other engine components. Look under the engine area for signs of leaks.
General Structure. While under the hood and as you walk around the entire unit, repeatedly check the frame and other major structural components for any damages. This will require stooping and twisting – but there is only one way to know.
Fifth Wheel Lock: Each and every time you hook to a new trailer and at least once a day, you should make a habit of checking the lock release to insure it is still locked and go under the trailer to visually check that the king pen lock is in place. The “pull test” is nice, but double checking is professional.
Maybe you pull the same trailer every day or drop and hook a numerous times per day – it is your duty as a professional truck driver to always inspect each trailer you are hooked to before you take it on to the highways and byways. Safety inspections will in the long run improve the possibility that you will be able to deliver your load on time and return to your family at home.