It is mandated by law, but many drivers still neglect to perform a complete and rigorous pre-trip inspection of their vehicles. Yet, the pre-trip inspection is arguably the most important responsibility a trucker has. The pre-trip inspection ensures that vehicles are safe ― for the driver, his or her cargo, and everyone else on the road.
Unfortunately, because the law fails to provide guidelines regarding the duration of the pre-trip inspection, it is common practice to skip certain checks and breeze through others. As a result, there is usually at least one mistake in every pre-trip inspection, and that mistake could reduce truck efficiency, cause long-term maintenance problems, and endanger human lives. Trucking companies must enforce strict pre-trip inspection rules that address each of the following major mistakes.
1. Filthy Cabin
Though it may not be on the FMCSA inspection list, it is a significant mistake to forget to clean up a truck’s cab before departure. During a roadside inspection, the cabin is the first area an inspector will see, and any signs of abuse or neglect in that space are gigantic red flags that signal the driver’s carelessness. More likely than not, an unkempt cab incurs a more strident inspection, which could mean more debilitating fines and penalties.
2. Imperfect Brakes
It isn’t easy to check a semi-truck’s brake system; it requires drivers to get in and out of the cab, hunch over the wheels and scrunch under the trailer, so many drivers skip steps to make the process faster and easier. Yet, the brakes are easily the hardest-working components on a heavy-duty truck, and when they fail, drivers and those around them are in serious danger. Brake violations account for almost a third of all violations during roadside inspections for this very reason, so if anything, drivers should spend extra time inspecting their brakes.
3. Defective Reflectors
Even when a truck’s lights are working properly, the reflectors dramatically improve a rig’s visibility, reducing the likelihood that other vehicles will lose sight of it in poor weather conditions. However, few drivers bother to inspect their reflectors for cracks or clean off the dirt to ensure they reflect properly. There are violations for defective reflectors, so adding this check to the pre-trip list is smart.
4. Ineffective Emergency Kit
There are a number of federally required items for the on-board emergency kit, including spare fuses or circuits, hazard cones, and a fire extinguisher. However, these items can quickly and quietly go bad, so drivers should check them every trip to ensure they are in working condition. Trucking companies should ensure that every one of their drives have other emergency equipment on hand, including spare fuel, water, and other important fluids for the engine, like high-quality exhaust fluid.
5. Seatbelt Issues
Seatbelts save lives, so it is imperative that a seatbelt remain functional even when other systems break down. Most importantly, drivers should see that the belts retract smoothly and lock appropriately with force. There should be no frayed edges or tears along the length of the belt. If there are any obvious signs of wear, drivers should get their seatbelts replaced as soon as possible.
6. Mirror Mayhem
In a vehicle as large and unwieldy as a semi-truck, sight can be a significant issue ― especially if a driver neglects to inspect and modify his or her mirrors. Adjusting the various mirrors to the perfect position can be as much a hassle as inspecting the brakes, but failing to do so creates enormous blind spots that put countless lives in jeopardy.
Not only should mirrors be set to the proper angle, but they must be secure to the vehicle so movement will not reposition them unintentionally. The mirrors should be clean of spots or smudges that can impair vision. Finally, drivers must be in the habit of checking their mirrors often for at least a second per glance, especially during crucial maneuvers like lane changes and turns.
7. Rusty Wheels
Checking tire pressure is a no-brainer in any vehicle, but truck drivers should also inspect the fasteners on their wheels for signs of weakness. For one reason or another, wheel lug nuts can become loose, and with enough jostling, a truck wheel might completely detach and roll away while a truck is barreling full-speed down a busy highway. Taking a wrench to the nuts during the pre-trip inspection is a good way to prevent this. Drivers should also look out for signs of rust ― including painted wheels on older vehicles, which can easily hide evidence of rust.
8. No Hardcopies
Sometimes it might feel like a trucker’s primary job is filling out paperwork and only after that does he or she get to drive. However, a driver should never forget to bring on board the paperwork he or she needs to safely and legally transport goods. At the very least, there should be copies of vehicle registration, permits, trailer ownership documents, CDL, inspection approval sticker, and one cycle of travel logs easily available during a trip.