Inspections are a key part of the safety system in place to keep cargo safe, secure and off the road. Drivers are required to meet with a certified inspector once every twelve months and keep the results of the review in their truck.
They must also self-check in the form of pre and post-trip inspections where they record and report truck and equipment issues to their carrier. But that isn't it. The third inspector is a law enforcement officer outfitted in a navy blue uniform, armed with extensive expertise regarding the rules of the road – specifically for commercial vehicles.
Motor Vehicle Enforcement Officers are authorized to inspect commercial vehicles, and they do not need a specific reason to do so. It is their job to make sure drivers are following state and federal laws related to driver qualification, hours of service, driver licensing, vehicle size, weight and safety. That includes keeping watch for adequate load securement and enforcing laws aimed at curbing crashes caused by cargo shifting or falling from the truck or trailer. We spent a cool spring day at an Iowa weigh-station with a group of those navy-clad officers. This particular stop is located on the southbound side of Interstate 380, near the small town of Brandon.
There we encountered Officer Loren Waterman, a respected law enforcer who’s been with Iowa Motor Vehicle Enforcement for nearly two decades. During his time on the force he has seen securement done right, and securement done very, very wrong. Our questions jogged his memory to a situation several years ago when he came upon a truck that lost an extremely heavy load of steel rolls. “When the truck tipped over they rolled right out the side of the trailer and into a ditch about 100 yards away,” Officer Waterman said. “They weighed about 10,000 pounds apiece.” That story is just a subtle reminder as to why these specific law officers are allowed to search and inspect just about any commercial vehicle they come across.
These men and women are checking for many potential violations – as for securement systems, they are looking for anything that might be weakening a tie-down. Issues range from equipment malfunctions and damage to working-load limit violations. Federal rules require tie-downs be in proper working order.
Officers look for obvious damage and distress to the equipment along with weak pieces and sections. When inspecting chain specifically, officers use several tools. They carry gages that determine if the links have elongated, plus a handy chart to figure out the chain’s grade and limits.
Chain suppliers are required to mark chain links with the grade, making it simple for the driver and law enforcement officers to identify. Officers will cite a driver for using the wrong chain, so it’s important to understand the rules and what the different types of chain are capable of doing.
The most commonly used flatbed chains, hooks and binders are:
- 5/16" Grade 70 Chain
- 3/8" Grade 70 Chain
- 1/2" Grade 70 Chain
- Grade 70 Chain Hooks
- Drop Forged Steel Lever Load Binders
- Drop Forged Steel Ratchet Load Binders
Officer Waterman tells us many of the drivers he comes across are aware of commercial rules because of the federal program CSA, or Compliance, Safety, Accountability. The program requires all violations be documented and a safety record kept on file. A bad score could create issues with the driver’s current carrier and complications if they want to change carriers down the road.
Thanks in part to CSA, officers do not encounter many securement issues, but some offenses are more common than others. Typically, officers find the driver is not using enough load securement.
Federal law requires a minimum number of tie-downs based on the weight and dimensions of the load. “I always tell everybody you’ll never get in trouble for having too many tie-downs or chains on there, but you will if you’re short,” Officer Waterman explained. Officer Waterman tells drivers they should secure anything less than 10,000 pounds with two tie-downs, and anything more than that with at least four.
Drivers must also keep the length and shape of the load in mind when determining the number of tie-downs and securement style. At the conclusion of each inspection, the officer chats with the driver about any violations found and what must be done to fix them. The most serious cases force the officer to put the vehicle out of service, meaning the issue needs to be resolved before the driver can leave with the truck. “We want the road to be safe for everybody out there,” Officer Waterman said.
For specific details and regulation regarding cargo securement check-out the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Driver’s Handbook on Cargo Securement.