Drop in truck inspectors called road safety concern
NDP transportation critic Harry Bains is accusing the province of putting motorists at greater risk by scrimping on roadside safety inspections for heavy trucks.
The number of commercial vehicle inspectors in B.C. dropped 26 per cent – from 254 in 2003 to 187 in 2011 – while the number of big rigs on the roads rose 45 per cent over the same period, he said.
"It's quite alarming," Bains said. "We are compromising the safety of those truck drivers and other motorists very seriously."
The numbers were gathered by the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, which represents truck inspectors and is lobbying the province to fill jobs that have been left vacant.
Bains said the poor compliance rate of many truckers adds to the concern.
Just 25 per cent of trucks inspected in the Lower Mainland from January through October of 2011 passed, while 44 per cent were issued violation tickets and 30 per cent were ordered out of service, meaning they had to be towed away if the deficiency couldn't be fixed on the spot.
Province-wide, the out-of-service rate was 22.5 per cent, the second highest in Canada.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety and Enforcement branch conducts its annual blitz over three days in early June each year, randomly pulling over big rigs for checks.
The inspection teams invariably catch high-profile offenders with dangerous brakes and other violations.
But Bains argues it's too easy for drivers with unsafe rigs to take a few days off then to avoid being caught.
Likewise, he said hours of operation have been reduced at most B.C. weigh scales over the years and wily truckers can figure out when to make a run to avoid them.
Less predictable enforcement would help reduce the number of unsafe trucks, he said, as would hiring more inspectors.
Transportation Minister Blair Lekstrom said the number of actual inspections performed has risen 14 per cent since 2004 to 30,453 last year.
He also said there's been a 30 per cent drop in heavy truck crashes since 2003 in B.C.
"Safety is our highest priority," he said.
Lekstrom said a shift to a fully staffed provincial permit centre in recent years freed up inspectors to do more truck checks.
B.C. Trucking Association president and CEO Louise Yako said inspectors have increasingly shifted to mobile operations and the use of smart technology over the years.
She said many truckers – typically the ones with good records – now agree to put transponders in their rigs that relay data via roadside readers to the weigh scale up the road.
Inspectors can then decide based on the record of the vehicle, driver and company whether to pull them in for a check.
Those rigs typically get the green light, Yako said, allowing inspectors to focus their attention more on the likelier offenders, and use mobile checks to go after rigs that deliberately avoid weigh scales.
Yako noted truckers are often ticketed for incorrect paperwork and other violations that aren't related to the actual vehicle's safety.
"Our industry is very safe," she said, adding most truck owners are serious about compliance.
"You don't want negative publicity, you don't want downtime associated with crashes and you don't want insurance and other premiums to go up. It just makes good business sense."