Roadcheck inspections: To avoid or not to avoid?

Roadcheck inspections: To avoid or not to avoid?

Old hand Mike "Mustang" Crawford and his independent business won't be on the road May 4-6 this year, which just so happens to coincide with the annual Roadcheck event of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. For years he's used the time in a manner that feels in sync with what an announced inspection spree intends to incentivize. "I take my truck in and have the shop go over it," he said, including performing any needed maintenance on the 1994 Freightliner.

When May rolls around this year, Crawford said, he'll have about $5,000 saved to devote in part to "new leaf springs on my front axle." The stress on the front right from a "flattened" spring is "giving me some wear on my steer tires" not exactly commensurate with the 60,000 miles he's got on them. 

His rationale of not-exactly-sitting-out-but-sitting-out-nonetheless when it comes to Roadcheck reminded me of a study recently published by researchers from the University of Arkansas and Michigan State. It looked at inspection data to determine whether announced enforcement events like CVSA's Roadcheck, Operation Safe Driver and Brake Safety Week translated to improved compliance or not. The paper's title? "To Announce or Not to Announce? Organizational Responses to Varied Inspection Regimes."

[Related: Roadcheck preps, in the state where 2020 inspections were up, not down]

Conclusions, as with most academic papers, do not fit in one box. A generalization in the introduction proposes two basic ones, though. 

... we find that large firms significantly improve their compliance in anticipation of announced periods of intense monitoring, and the effects persist weeks after the event. However, small firms and firms with old equipment -- firms for which it would be costly to comply -- temporarily cease operations during announced inspection events to avoid the investment required to comply or the cost of being detected noncompliant. 

Yet it's not that simple, is it? Crawford's example offers a third path -- a way plenty safety- and cost-conscious owner-operators have their avoidance and eat their compliance, too, as it were. 

To their credit, the researchers acknowledge the likelihood of variations beyond strictly statistical bounds. It comes during statement of a hypothesis they later set out to prove. 

Compliance and avoidance decisions are made jointly based on their cost relative to one another, but the costs ... are largely determined by separate considerations. ... Whether announced periods of increased inspection intensity have a deterrence effect depends on whether the compliance effect outweighs the avoidance effect. There is likely to be heterogeneity in the response of firms to announced inspection events.

To my layman's reading -- yes, different trucking companies are likely to respond in different ways, depending on factors too many to name. The report goes on:

While observed compliance will increase on average during an event, firms for which compliance is the costliest and avoidance is the most viable will be the most likely to avoid an inspection event.

What might be lost in the numbers analyzed by the researchers is what folks like Crawford consider when they avoid the three-day Roadcheck. For him, the potential costs of an inspection can be high indeed. "The age of my truck, being a 1994 model," may well make the possibility of a violation higher as parts age. There's the basic hassle factor of being tied up in an inspection while still on a delivery timeline. If the worst happens and "they find something and it can't be fixed on the site and it has to be towed," it gets ever more costly, too.  

By sitting out the event in his home area of Long Lane, Missouri, "I'm around Springfield" near mechanics he knows well, where a thorough going-over and scheduled maintenance can be done as cost-efficiently as possible. On his own time, too. 

And "I don't have to be towed," of course, he added.   

There's a lot more to the researchers' analysis, though -- and a lot of complicated statistical analysis, for you math geeks. You can find a copy of it via this link. 

[Related: Are you ready for Roadcheck?]

Mustang Crawford -- who "never leaves a brief message," as he kindly reminded me yesterday -- can do some maintenance himself, but not a whole lot when it comes to jobs needing a heavy lift. He takes his Freightliner most often to MHC Kenworth in Springfield, always to Detroit for his Series 60, and lately often enough to a "newer place," he said, Truck Component Services, or TCS, in nearby Strafford, Missouri. TCS is a Peterbilt dealer and heavy-truck-salvage specialist. 

He gives high marks to the service manager there, Jesse Atwell, for an approach perhaps exemplified by something Crawford observed as it was getting on quittin' time on the day when he had his transmission replaced there. With mechanics all occupied about 4:30, "Jesse wasn’t just sitting back behind a desk," Crawford said. "He was out there sweeping the floor for everybody while the mechanics were trying to get everything done."

He describes TCS as positively "old-school. I had a wheel seal leaking and called Jesse. I asked him, 'How soon can you get me in?'"

Came the reply: "How soon can you get here?" 

Crawford started the 50-minute run when he got a call from Jesse. "He said, 'Cody is waiting on you. When you get there,  back into the ramp on bay 4. There’s a truck in there, but we’ll fix you on the ramp.'" They drained the grease behind the leaky seal, put in new grease and a new seal. "They put everything back together, cleaned up the brake, charged $342 and that was it. They were done with me in an hour and a half or so." 

Here's the TCS website. If you visit, tell 'em Mustang sent you.