One of every five commercial trucks pulled over in Baltimore by Maryland State Police inspectors during a two-day sweep this week was impounded for safety defects. In addition to the 114 defective trucks, 21 drivers were barred from driving for violations.
The dragnet, the first in the city in six years, used 45 troopers from across the state to monitor highway ramps and prowl city streets. Trucks selected for inspection were either pulled over along Broening Highway and Fairfield Road, access roads to the port of Baltimore, or herded to a parking lot at M&T Bank Stadium.
During Tuesday and Wednesday, troopers carried out 562 inspections and issued 127 citations and 402 warnings. Offenses were as various as falsified log books, drivers spending too many hours behind the wheel, bad tires and defective brakes. Two men were arrested on outstanding warrants for failure to appear in court.
By comparison, a one-day sweep last spring along the Capital Beltway generated 420 inspections resulting in 87 trucks and 12 drivers being taken off the road.
"This is not us against them," said State Police Capt. Norman Dofflemyer. "We want them to be safe and we want motorists to be safe. But some truck drivers and their companies just don't get it."
Clearly, though, a lot did.
Standing by his truck, which was taken out of service for an underinflated tire, blown tail light and steering fluid problem, Jonathan Superczynski said he was glad the troopers were doing their jobs.
"I don't want to die," said the supervisor for Baltimore-based Ruff Roofers. "These inspections get unsafe trucks off the road, and if you have problems with your truck, it points them out."
Superczynski said he drove tractor-trailers across country during his career and knows that owners can be reluctant to take a truck off the road for repairs.
"You can talk until you're blue in the face, but a warning or a ticket from state police gets their attention," he said.
Other drivers shrugged and smiled, calling inspections a part of doing business.
Maryland led the nation over the past two years in the number of truck safety inspections, with 32 stops for every highway lane mile, according to a study conducted by Overdrive, a trucking industry publication. (Lane miles are calculated by multiplying the length of a road by the number of lanes it has.) California was a distant second, with 23 inspections per lane mile.
Last year, Maryland State Police inspectors weighed more than 2 million commercial vehicles and carried out more than 69,000 roadside inspections. Troopers issued 39,111 citations and 45,514 warnings for traffic and equipment violations, Dofflemyer said.
The police captain said some truckers, weary of fighting with their bosses over needed repairs, point out flaws to inspectors. Recently one driver for an Anne Arundel County company showed a trooper an email from his boss instructing him to ignore problems and keep driving.
"We're sending an audit team to the company for a complete inspection," he said.
The Baltimore dragnet was weeks in the planning, including scouting sessions.
"Everything we saw out there said, 'Yes, we have a problem,'" Dofflemyer said.
Any doubts were put to rest last week during a walk-through, when inspectors issued a $32,000 ticket to a driver hauling a grossly overweight trailer and excavator.
Although they said they did not request the safety sweep, city officials applauded the effort.
"We're very appreciative," said Adrienne Barnes, spokeswoman for the city Department of Transportation. "Truck traffic is a definite problem. Safety is our No. 1 priority. Trucks on unauthorized routes are disruptive, and overweight trucks do damage to our streets."
Nationally, there was a 1.9 percent increase in the number of people killed in crashes involving large trucks from 2010 to 2011, the most recent year available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But the death rate for truck occupants jumped 20 percent. In Maryland, fatalities involving large trucks dropped from 44 in 2010 to 39 in 2011.
Anne S. Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, called sweeps "essential to raising the bar for motor carrier safety and removing those who fail to comply with the safety rules of the road."
"Safety is our mission and passion, and the lifesaving efforts of the Maryland State Police to detect and deter unsafe truck operations is a great example of how to prevent crashes and their devastating effects," said Ferro, who once headed the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration and also was president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association.
Early Wednesday morning, as troopers took their roadside positions, radio traffic between truckers crackled with warnings.
"The phones are ringing. They're going crazy. This is Day Two but obviously some of them didn't get the word," said Dofflemyer with a grin as trucks snagged in the dragnet were led to the football stadium parking lot.
Engines growled and air brakes hissed as teams got to work. The auto theft unit checked vehicle identification numbers and registrations while inspectors popped truck hoods, crawled beneath trailers and weighed loads. Troopers used a thermal imaging unit to check the heat generated by brakes and swept the sides of trucks with a radiation detector.
Inspections took about 30 minutes. Trucks deemed unsafe to drive were corralled in a corner to await repairs or a tow. The rest were free to go.
Rodney Coburn, an independent tractor-trailer driver from North Carolina, smiled as he climbed back into his cab, his truck given a clean bill of health.
"Just like an annual checkup," he said.
Truck dragnet results
•114 defective trucks impounded
•21 drivers barred from driving for violations
•402 warningsCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun