WSP drives for truck safety

Annual inspection program aims to ensure vehicles road-worthy

By Bob Albrecht, Columbian Staff Reporter

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photoWashington State Patrol commercial vehicle officer Corey Turner, center, calls out specific information to fellow officer Kelly Tabor, left, while he inspects underneath Jose Meza’s big rig at the Ridgefield Port of Entry on Wednesday.

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Underneath a Peterbilt tractor-trailer, Officer Corey Turner marked the big rig’s brakes to make sure they were up to code. When Jim Bowers would press the brakes, Turner explained, he’d be able to tell if they were working based on where the marks landed.

Shaking his head, Turner said, “One of the trucks we had yesterday, two of the back brakes weren’t even working.”

The Washington State Patrol on Thursday wrapped up its annual three-day, round-the-clock emphasis focused on safety problems. During the crackdown, known as Roadcheck 2011, WSP’s commercial vehicle enforcement officers, called CVEOs, analyzed brakes and lug nuts, made sure drivers weren’t too fatigued to be on the road and scanned logbooks to make sure everything about the trucks was humming properly.

Bowers’ truck received top marks.

“He got one of the best safety ratings I’ve seen in a long time,” Turner said. “He got a one (on a scale of 1 to 100, with 1 being the best).”

“I was a mechanic for 17 years,” Bowers, who was hauling logs from Molalla, Ore., to Longview, explained of his top-shape truck.

Turner is one of 15 CVEOs working the Port of Entry truck scale house north of Ridgefield. There are five ports of entry in Washington, all participating in the 72-hour safety push occurring nationwide and in Canada and Mexico. The effort is backed by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

Trucks driving into the station off northbound Interstate 5 are randomly directed to pull off for an inspection. Turner and other inspectors then evaluate the condition of the truck to see whether it passes the “eye test.” They also make sure drivers are wearing seat belts and that they look alert.

There are three levels of evaluations, Level 1 being the most comprehensive. When Bowers was passing through the station, signs indicated his truck hadn’t been inspected for two years.

Of Bowers, Turner said, “I asked him how his day was going. He said it (had been) going good.I guess I didn’t make any friends here.

When Bowerspulled into the inspection garage, he pulled over an open area that allowed Turner to move beneath the truck, inspecting brakes and brake pads.

He directed Bowers to flip on both turn signals, brake lights, wheels and emergency flashers. After 15 minutes, Bowers, who said he spent much of his childhood in Yacolt, was free to continue on his way.

If the truck had problems, Turner could have refused to let it back on the road, fined the driver or both.

Knows the ropes

Bowers, 55, said he’s been driving trucks since 1978. He said he had no problem having his rig inspected.

“It makes these guys happy,” Bowers said. “I pretty much know what I’m doing.”

Not all drivers do, though, he said. Or they don’t take care to keep up with regular maintenance.

“They just don’t put money into their truck, I think,” he said of drivers whose vehicles receive poor marks in inspections.

Turner said there’s little that significantly differs during the Roadcheck campaign from the regular, day-to-day operations at the Port of Entry. During the yearly push, there’s more public awareness of the commercial vehicle enforcement officers’ work.

“We’re always here, 24-7,” Turner said.

In a bulletin released earlier this week announcing the campaign, WSP Chief John R. Batiste said trucking is on the increase in Washington.

“As our state’s economy recovers, we are seeing more commercial vehicles engaged in valuable commerce. Our participation in Roadcheck 2011 is intended to make certain that this very welcome rebound happens safely,” Batiste said.