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Inspectors Take Nine Trucks Off Road

Trucks had defective equipment, jeopardizing the safety of other motorists.

The truck driver looked defeated as he neared the four-way intersection of Belmont Ridge and Ryan roads in Ashburn.

Truck-safety inspectors, clip boards in hand, motioned for him to pull his rig over. As the morning wore on last Friday, the inspectors put nine trucks out of commission. They inspected 18 trucks and discovered 53 violations.

With the sun beating down, Deputy 1st Class Clark Jackson of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Department told the owner of two trucks to take his complaint to another inspector who had decided the vehicles were too unsafe for the road.

“He’s complaining he can’t afford the fines. It’s the third time in two weeks,” Jackson said, adding that the fines totaled $1,000. “We’re not going to cut him slack with as many violations he has had over the last couple of weeks. He hasn’t fixed his trucks.”

ONE NICOYA company truck was grounded because the driver was operating with a suspended license, no medical card and a leaking fuel tank. Drivers must pass a physical every two years and receive a medical card as proof that they are fit to drive.

Deputy 1st Class Jim Kenna said that same truck had a defective tire and a cracked windshield. The tire was bald and its sidewall was split in several places. The tire could blow and the leak could ignite a fire, he said. “You’ve got a situation set up for a serious accident.”

Another truck carried a trailer with defective breaks and malfunctioning lights. It was the second Pro-Pave company truck put out of commission in the past week, inspectors said.

U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10), who successfully pushed for funding of truck safety, attended the inspection. “If you get a mom and dad and little kids, and this truck is going 50 to 55 mph, the trailer could jackknife and you could kill some people,” Wolf said. “Fourteen to 15 people die in truck accidents every day. It’s like an airplane crash every two weeks.”

In 2003, 4,986 people were killed in crashes involving large trucks, said Bill Paden, associate administrator for enforcement of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The Loudoun County Sheriff’s department removed three out of every five inspected trucks from the roads last year and found 6,215 safety violations, spokesman Kraig Troxell said. In the last eight months, inspectors have removed 57 percent of the examined trucks, he said.

DEPUTY 1ST CLASS Chris Rizzo pointed a thermal imaging unit at the trucks’ wheels to determine whether the brakes were working. Rizzo, peering through the lens of the unit, could see if there was a heated glow from the braking action. If there was no glow, the brakes were defective, he said.

The Sheriff’s Department qualified for a grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last year to buy two thermal imaging units for truck inspections. In the first two months of its use, 88 percent of the inspected trucks were removed from service, Troxell said.

Lt. Ed Leonard, Traffic Safety Unit supervisor of the Special Operation Division, said members of his unit inspect trucks daily. “I feel strongly about enforcing the violations for the safety and welfare of our citizens,” he said. “Yes, we see repeat offenders. More important, though, we have changed the mind set of many companies to conform. If anything, I’m proud of that.”

Sheriff Steve Simpson said many counties look to the State Police to do the inspections. “We have an obligation to the citizens here to keep the roads as safe as we can,” he said. “This is a big part of it.”

He called on the General Assembly to increase fines to deter repeat offenders. “The fines now are not heavy enough of an incentive.”

THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS is slated to vote in early September to add two truck inspectors to the Traffic Safety Unit at an estimated cost of $210,703. The Public Safety Committee endorsed the proposal last month. Simpson also requested four motorcycle deputies, but funding was denied. He said the additional deputies would free up inspectors who repeatedly have to abandon their inspection detail to respond to motor-vehicle crashes.