In my experience as a state patrol sergeant, the following are driving behaviors or situations that “stood out” from the norm. Not every violation mentioned below necessarily results in a citation but it will, at a minimum, result in a warning and a reason for a traffic stop. As we are aware, many of the violation warnings will be evaluated in FMCSA’s safety measurement systems.
- Following too close – When considering the perception and reaction time of 1.5 seconds, less than 2 seconds exists for the driver to see, acknowledge, and act by steering or braking to avoid a crash. When trucks are following less than a truck length behind another, it’s obviously too close and an easy traffic stop. Of course, we know much more distance is needed to just fulfill the perception and reaction time and to fulfill most states' following distance laws.
- Speeding – Most CMV officers would prefer to have a reason for a CMV stop, rather than random inspections if that is allowed in their jurisdiction. Speed is rather easy to find and typically coupled with the above “following too close”. Again, many stops may just be a warning but the driver “gave reason” for the traffic stop and now it’s an opportunity to review the driver’s credentials and the vehicle's equipment.
- Lane deviations – Not all lane deviations are unsafe or prohibited by state traffic laws, but for those that are in violation it’s an easy stop. For the others significant deviations raise reasonable concerns relating to the driver’s possible illness, fatigue, or impairment. Typically, once it's observed that it was not simply a “push of the wind” officers will initiate a traffic stop for deviations from the traffic lanes which are not typical or stand out from the norm for the conditions and roadway surface. These stops frequently result in the observance of driver distraction with onboard electronics and a high frequency of record of duty status concerns as it’s a stop that was not anticipated by the driver.
- Inattentiveness – Most officers have observed “that truck” which was approaching a lane closure or traffic stop at a high speed. At the last moment the driver finally takes the aggressive crash avoidance actions. I have had to “drive out of the way” to prevent a collision even with red/blue lights activated and the siren blaring to garner attention. These drivers are of high concern to be stopped for illness or fatigue. They demonstrated a threat to themselves or others.
- Improper Load Securement – This violation literally stares the officer in the face. When equipment is loaded on a flatbed it’s clearly in plain view and securement methods, number of devices, and general condition can be readily observed. Any observed deficiency will result in a traffic stop. Of greater concern is the securement in enclosed trailers as it’s out of view during transportation but it will be checked during an inspection. It’s not uncommon to find heavy items or containment systems simply lined down the center of the trailer with no side to side securement. We have seen our fair share of roll-overs as a result of non-compliance where cargo has shifted when the drivers felt “it was too heavy to move”.
- Use of handheld phone – If the mirrors are properly adjusted this is just too easy to observe particularly in an unmarked cruiser or a patrol vehicle without roof lighting (less conspicuous to driver). Of course the concern relates back to attentiveness and the driver’s ability to respond in an expedient manner if crash avoidance is required.
- Lighting Violations – Many of the observed lighting violations could easily be avoided with a proper pre-trip and post-trip inspection. The filaments of standard bulbs may “connect” and re-connect” with vibrations. In winter a person who has an inoperative headlamp could give it a slight tap and it’s now “working” but of course we all know it’s very temporary and certainly not a proper repair. The frequent observation of required lighting devices and perhaps replacement lenses/bulbs carried on the units will reduce on the road observances. LED lamps are also promising for reducing lighting violations by eliminating that filament separation we see in standard lighting.
- Improper Registration or Credential Display – Although this is not a safety violation it is a reason to “stand out” and initiate a traffic stop. What a great opportunity to “scratch and sniff” as I would say. In every case a CMV officer will at a minimum conduct a Level 3 inspection in this situation. Rest assured that as the officer is walking back and forth they are taking a close look at the equipment and if a violation is observed it will be upgraded to a Level 2 inspection.
- Overweight – With the desire to maximize cargo movement and 53’+ trailers, proper weight distribution can prove a challenge for novice drivers. With the dramatic increase of mainline high speed virtual weigh in motion systems (VWIM) the ease, efficiency, and intrigue of this enforcement strategy has increased carrier contacts for violations. The system is fantastic in screening a large amount of CMVs and highlighting violators yet minimizing the delays to carriers who are taking proactive measures with weight compliance. The chances are very high an inspection will follow this traffic stop.
- Failure to obey official traffic signs or signals – Similarly related to overweight violations is overlooking posted signs for weight limitations. Forfeitures where weight violations exist can be staggering, particularly if special weight postings are disregarded. Other sign violations can also command substantial attention such as misreading or misjudging a bridge height sign resulting in a bridge strike. Not only will bridge inspectors, competitors, and customers observe that truck under the bridge in print or person, you can expect a CMV inspector to arrive and complete a post-crash inspection. Lastly, failing to follow a state's lane restriction guidance such as “all truck use right lane” is entirely preventable.
The above violations are certainly not all inclusive of what may be observed during patrol activities, but they unfortunately do exist and are too common. The goal of the CMV enforcement officers and drivers is to prevent crashes and come home safely. I ask that the carriers and drivers I now proudly represent continue to be professional examples of a safe and courteous driving which stands above others as a positive example to all motor vehicle operators as they are watching.
Mark is a 27-year veteran of the Wisconsin State Patrol. He joined HNI in May of 2017.