TN, VA tractor trailers, drivers pulled off the road at a higher rate than national average

(WJHL) – Roughly one out of every four big rigs and other commercial vehicles from Tennessee and Virginia are pulled off the roads due to an imminent hazard, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration records.

That out-of-service rate of more than 26% is higher than the national average of 20%, according to the most recent federal data.

Meanwhile, inspectors take drivers from those states off the road almost 9%, which is almost twice as high as the national average, according to federal data.

The most common vehicle violations in 2016 included trucks operating without the required operable lamps, brakes out of adjustment, tire issues and inoperative turn signals, according to federal records.

The most common driver violations in 2016 included log violations and speeding, according to federal data.

Random inspections that catch those violations and take drivers and their trucks off the road are meant to prevent crashes, injuries, and death.

“We stop some bad things from happening,” Virginia State Police Master Trooper Joe Bowling said. “We find things on a daily basis typically.”

One morning, we shadowed the VSP Motor Carrier Unit trooper who spent almost an hour inspecting every inch of a tractor trailer. His 37-step inspection also included a review of the man behind the wheel. The trooper found several concerns with both the truck and the driver.

“A couple of them would be considered out-of-service problems, imminent hazards,” he said.

Federal records identified more than 3,100 vehicles and almost 850 drivers from Virginia and Tennessee with out-of-service ratings of at least 50 percent.

In recent years, Bowling said inspectors started dedicating more of their efforts to identifying problem drivers. He said that was the result of a federal study that found drivers of large trucks are 10 times more likely to cause a crash than any other factor.

Our investigation revealed Virginia lags behind Tennessee when it comes to the number of inspectors.

Virginia has 300 certified inspectors, according to Bowling, compared to more than twice as many in Tennessee.

Tennessee Highway Patrol reports the state is home to 765 commercial motor vehicle inspectors. As a result, federal records show Tennessee completed twice as many reported inspections in 2016 with more than 70,000 compared to Virginia’s roughly 33,000, according to federal records.

Our analysis of federal inspection records revealed state inspectors inspected the equivalent of 195 commercial motor vehicles a day in Tennessee and just 93 a day in Virginia in 2016.

“That’s the equivalent of about 93 a day. Some people may wonder why doesn’t Virginia do more inspections?” we asked.

“It’s just the way our assignment is and the way it’s set up to be done,” Bowling said.

Bowling says VSP would like more inspectors to complete more inspections, but he says the current dedication of resources doesn’t allow that.

“Are we less safe because you don’t inspect that many?” we asked.

“I don’t look at it as less safe,” he said. “We do as many as we feasibly can do. I think we do an effective job here and I don’t think the numbers are going to indicate that our roads are any less safe than theirs.'”

The most recent fatal crash data supports his stance. The 2015 numbers show crashes per capita are much lower in Virginia than Tennessee.

VSP stopped the driver of the previously mentioned tractor trailer one exit before his destination and it cost him.

Bowling said his inspection revealed unsecured cargo and no proof the driver was rested enough to drive. Both problems temporarily took him and his tractor-trailer off the road.

“This notifies you (that) you are out-of-service for 10 hours for not having the log book as required,” he told the driver. “You just can’t drive for 10 hours.”

The inspection also proved costly for the company he worked for out of Kodak, TN.

GMT owner Gregory Matthews said he shut down his operation earlier this month and pulled his trucks off the road because his insurance was getting too expensive.

The company’s out-of-service rates are higher than the national average for both its drivers and trucks, according to federal records. Of the company’s 16 inspections over the last two years, inspectors took GMT’s trucks off the road 36% of the time and its drivers 12.5% of the time.

The company does not have any reportable crashes listed during the last 24 months.

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