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Truck Safety Regulation

Executive Summary

January 1992


Truck safety regulation is currently under examination by Minnesota policy makers. Two state agencies, the State Patrol in the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Motor Carrier Safety and Compliance in the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) are responsible for truck safety regulation. Both perform roadside inspections and conduct safety reviews at company terminals. The absence of a clear division of labor between the two agencies and the interest of both in pursuing an important role in safety regulation has led to continuing friction between the two departments.

The situation concerns legislators enough that they asked us to do a study. The main issue we addressed is:

  • How should truck safety regulation be divided between Mn/DOT and the State Patrol?

To address this issue we asked:

  • What are the truck safety responsibilities of each department and the division of labor between them?
  • How effectively is each agency carrying out its truck safety program?
  • How can safety regulation be performed in a more effective and efficient manner?

We have approached these research questions by observing each agency's operations, and by talking to front-line workers, managers, and truckers and their representatives. We reviewed statistical information on safety inspections and the results of these inspections.

Our conclusions and recommendations about truck safety regulation are derived from a consideration of the following criteria:

  • Primary responsibility for truck safety regulation should reside in the agency that is best positioned to carry out an effective program. The agency's other programs and responsibilities should enhance its ability to perform safety related activities.
  • Truck safety regulation should be compatible with an agency's overall mission, organizational interests, incentives, and expertise.
  • Responsibility for truck safety regulation should reside in the agency with the best performance record.

Many variables besides truck safety regulation affect safety, and it is reassuring to note that there has been a marked improvement in traffic accidents and truck safety in Minnesota and nationally over the last twenty years. United States traffic fatalities declined from 52,542 in 1971 to 44,529 in 1990, despite many more vehicles on the road and a near doubling of total miles driven. Minnesota had 1,024 fatalities in 1971 and only 568 in 1990. Nationally, fatalities from accidents involving trucks over 10,000 pounds declined from 5.1 per 100 million miles in 1977 to 3.1 in 1989. In Minnesota, total commercial vehicle crashes (trucks over 9,000 pounds and buses) went from 5.0 per million vehicle miles in 1984 to 2.8 in 1990.

The Federal Role in Safety Regulation

The major impetus to the growth of safety regulation in Minnesota was the creation of the federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) in 1982, which Minnesota joined in 1984. Before MCSAP, the Minnesota Departments of Public Safety and Transportation inspected about 1,500 vehicles annually. In fiscal year 1991, these agencies conducted about 30,000 inspections. The MCSAP program funds 80 percent of the state's "enhanced" effort (beyond the 1982 level) up to a maximum amount. In the federal fiscal year ended September 30, 1991, the federal share was $1,134,568 ($680,740 to the State Patrol and $453,828 to Mn/DOT).

Trucking is largely an interstate operation. The federal government has promoted the adoption of standardized truck safety requirements across the country. To receive federal funds, states must adopt federal safety standards. Neither Minnesota nor other states can impose requirements much different from those in wide use across the country if they want reciprocal treatment of their trucks in other states.

Truck Regulation in the State Patrol

The overall mission of the State Patrol is law enforcement on trunk highways. Regulation of trucking within the Patrol is carried out by the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section. Most of the Patrol's commercial vehicle enforcement program is aimed at enforcement of vehicle weight requirements, the purpose of which is to collect revenue and to protect the roadbed from wear and tear caused by overweight trucks. Fiscal 1991 expenditures for weigh scales accounts for about $4 million of $6 million total expenditures for the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section. There are both fixed and mobile weigh scales designed to intercept the traffic entering or passing through the state on major routes.

Altogether the Patrol's Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section consists of 140 positions, 55 people in the Twin Cities and 71 outstate. Four managers and ten additional support staff are located in the Twin Cities. About 84 of the 126 operational employees around the state are working primarily on weight regulation at fixed or mobile scales. An additional ten work on weight enforcement by inspecting bills of lading at terminals and grain elevators. Truck safety regulation in the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Section of the Patrol is, to a significant degree, an adjunct to weigh scale operations, but there are ten inspectors financed by the MCSAP program who are dedicated full-time to truck safety.

Twenty-seven front line employees are uniformed troopers, as are four top managers. The remaining positions in the section are held by civilian employees, 98 of whom are Commercial Vehicle Inspectors, who perform truck inspections and carry out weigh scale operations.

Truck Regulation in Mn/DOT

In the Minnesota Department of Transportation, truck safety activities are carried out by the Office of Motor Carrier Safety and Compliance. This office was originally created in the Railroad and Warehouse Commission in 1925 (later moved to the Department of Public Service) to enforce economic regulation of intrastate transportation. The office was moved to Mn/DOT in 1976 when the department was established and given responsibility for enforcement of motor carrier regulations.

Since the creation of the federal MCSAP program, Mn/DOT's safety program was expanded to cover interstate trucks. Now, intrastate and interstate, private and for-hire trucks are subject to safety regulation by Mn/DOT and the Patrol (although there are some exemptions from some requirements). Mn/DOT now has 25 employees who perform safety and economic regulatory functions and whose safety-related functions are essentially the same as those performed by Commercial Vehicle Inspectors in the Patrol. Ten of these positions are located in Mn/DOT regional offices and the remainder are in the Twin Cities. In state fiscal year 1991, Mn/DOT spent $1,921,670 on economic and safety regulation.

In summary:

  • The Patrol has 140 people assigned to commercial vehicle law enforcement, Mn/DOT has 25. The Patrol's Commercial Vehicle Enforcement budget is around $6 million, Mn/DOT's is about $2 million.
  • The Patrol conducts most roadside inspections. In the year ended September 30, 1991, the Patrol conducted 25,275 inspections and Mn/DOT conducted 5,028.
  • Mn/DOT conducted 348 safety reviews at company terminals in the year ended September 30, 1991, the Patrol carried out 179 in the same period.

Findings and Recommendations

The best organizational location of truck safety regulation depends on the fit between truck safety regulation and other agency programs, staff deployment, and organizational culture and incentives. The performance record of Mn/DOT and the Patrol in truck safety is also relevant, as is a look at how other states have organized truck safety regulation.

Based on our review of the responsibilities of Mn/DOT and the Department of Public Safety, we conclude that:

  • There is a complementary relationship between weigh scale operations and truck safety inspections. Therefore, the Patrol is the logical choice to conduct roadside inspections.

Not only can safety inspections be performed economically as an adjunct to weigh scale operations, the yield of inspections performed at weigh scales (in terms of violations found) is as good as the yield of inspections conducted elsewhere. And the task of intercepting trucks trying to avoid being weighed is similar to the job of intercepting traffic that may not wish to undergo a safety inspection.

The Patrol weighs about 1.2 million trucks a year. It is efficient to screen trucks for safety violations at the same time they are weighed. Thousands of trucks pass through the fixed scales each day and about half of all inspections are performed there. Fixed weigh scales provide a safe place to put unsafe trucks out of service and a location from which to deploy vehicle inspectors for crash investigations or other roadside operations. The rate at which trucks are put out of service is about as high at fixed scales as elsewhere. From April through September 1991, 2,304 safety inspections were performed at mobile scales, 14 percent of the total. These inspections were also productive in terms of total violations and out-of-service violations found.

On the question of agency performance, the data we reviewed suggest that both Mn/DOT and the Patrol are effective. Both agencies met their 1991 roadside inspection and safety review commitments made through the MCSAP program, qualifying Minnesota for maximum federal financing. While Minnesota's rate of detecting violations is slightly below the national average, federal officials are pleased with the way both agencies carry out Minnesota's truck safety program.

One measure of performance is the rate at which drivers or vehicles are taken out of service as a result of roadside inspections. This rate reflects the skill and thoroughness with which the inspections are conducted, as well as other factors, such as the part of the state where the inspection occurs and the types of trucks inspected. But the Patrol and Mn/DOT choose locations and screening procedures that enhance the probability of detecting serious safety violations. Thus, the out-of-service rate is a general measure of effectiveness.

Nationally, between 1984 and 1990, about 36 percent of vehicles and seven percent of drivers inspected were taken out of service. In the early years of the MCSAP program, both the Patrol and Mn/DOT had vehicle out-of-service rates significantly below the national average but this gap was considerably reduced by 1989. We also found:

  • The Patrol achieved a higher vehicle out-of-service rate than Mn/DOT between 1984 and 1990, but Mn/DOT had virtually closed the gap by 1991 when it achieved a vehicle out-of-service rate of 27 percent compared to the Patrol's 27.7 percent. Both agencies, however, lag behind the national average of 33 percent.

Both agencies' driver out-of-service rates (the number of drivers placed out of service per inspection) were below the national norm until 1990, when the Patrol exceeded the national rate, 8.3 percent to 7.0 percent. In 1991, the Patrol's driver out-of-service rate more than doubled, to 18.9 percent. Mn/DOT's rate improved from 3 percent in 1990 to 3.6 percent in 1991, still below the national average of 7 percent and well below the Patrol's rate.

The Patrol explains its improved performance as due to increased emphasis on driver-only inspections, and emphasis on intercepting interstate trucking on interstate highways. Mn/DOT points out that many of its inspections are done in the interior of the state where a greater share of the traffic is local and either exempt from rules on how long a driver is allowed to drive without resting or less likely to be in violation of them than interstate traffic.

In summary, we believe that the data support a conclusion that the Patrol is more effective than Mn/DOT in detecting safety violations. We also reviewed the cost of conducting roadside inspections, and find that, although the data are inconclusive, the Patrol enjoys certain efficiencies owing to the more extensive statewide deployment of commercial vehicle inspectors engaged in weigh scale operations and lower travel and lodging costs that are achievable as a result.

We conclude that the State Patrol is the best organizational setting for truck safety regulation. We recommend that:

  • All roadside enforcement activities should be assigned to the Patrol, while Mn/DOT should assume responsibility for safety reviews and complaint investigations. The Patrol should remain the lead agency in dealing with the Federal Highway Administration.

This recommendation honors the current division of labor to a large extent since the Patrol already is the lead agency in dealing with the federal government and conducts most of the roadside inspections, and Mn/DOT conducts most safety reviews at company terminals. It would not require a major transfer of staff between agencies.

This solution recognizes that roadside safety inspections are a law enforcement function, similar to other traffic law enforcement, and consistent with the Patrol's basic mission. It is also consistent with the Patrol's superior statewide deployment of vehicle inspectors as a result of its weigh scale operations and its superior record of detecting violations.

If this solution does not resolve the dispute between the agencies, however, we recommend that all truck safety inspections, both roadside inspections and safety reviews at truck terminals, be placed under the authority of the Department of Public Safety in the State Patrol.

Mn/DOT argues that its responsibilities in economic regulation require continuing involvement in roadside and terminal inspections. Mn/DOT argues that truck safety regulation is more like an administrative regulatory process than a law enforcement function.

These points are not without merit, although we think a stronger case can be made for the Patrol when the question is which agency should conduct roadside inspections. Mn/DOT has demonstrated the ability to do the job, however, and judging by the high rate of serious violations detected by both agencies, there is plenty of work to do before compliance with safety standards is adequate. Thus, our recommendation to consolidate roadside operations in the Patrol does not imply that the total force now engaged in truck safety inspections should be reduced.

There is currently some pressure to upgrade the commercial vehicle inspector job to that of a licensed peace officer. In our view, the inspector job requires skill, including some training and aptitude for dealing with the public, but not the level of skill and judgment required for troopers or other uniformed peace officers. This is demonstrated by the effective use of motor transportation representatives in Mn/DOT and civilian commercial vehicle inspectors in the Patrol. It is to the Patrol's credit that it has employed civilian technicians effectively in a setting where there was reluctance to yield responsibilities formerly belonging to uniformed troopers. We think the Patrol should stick with this cost-effective way of getting the job done.

In conclusion, truck safety regulation is a small responsibility in two large departments that operate other programs related and unrelated to truck safety. The choice of which department should be responsible for truck safety inspections rests primarily on a consideration of which agency is best positioned strategically to carry out this function. In our view, strategic position depends on both geographic deployment, and organizational mission, incentives, and other organizational responsibilities. Taking these factors into account, we recommend that a dividing line of responsibility be drawn to reflect the Patrol's superior strategic position at weigh scales and on the roads, and Mn/DOT's expertise in terminal-based inspections.

 

 

Office of the Legislative Auditor ♦ Room 140, 658 Cedar St., St. Paul, MN 55155