How the COVID-19 Workload Could Affect Truck Maintenance and Examinations
COVID-19 has placed unprecedented stresses on the commercial trucking industry as the dual pressures of potential illnesses and time crunches have wreaked havoc. Nearly 71% of the freight in the United States travels by trucks, and it still needs to move. Nonetheless, there are effects on COVID-19 truck maintenance and inspections.
Trucks Have Been Pressed Into More Service During COVID-19
Trucks and truckers have been stretched to the limit during COVID-19. Given the outsize role that trucks play in making sure the nation’s food supply reaches store shelves, the actual trucks have been pressed into difficult service to restock retail outlets. The need for truckers has been so great that drivers were given a temporary exemption from rules that restricted the amount of time they may spend behind the wheel.
This means that trucks are out on the road more often. As a result, tasks like preventative maintenance may be pushed off until later due to the need to keep the trucks running. The attitude during COVID-19 would seem to be to keep the trucks running at all costs to maintain the delivery schedule. However, preventative maintenance may be the first thing to get skipped when either time or budget is tight.
In fact, maintenance shops throughout the country are reporting that fewer trucks are coming through their premises for maintenance. This is not because trucks are off the road and parked. Instead, it is because truckers are so busy that there is no time for maintenance.
Equipment Utilization Is Higher and Maintenance Shops Are Struggling
Simply stated, equipment utilization is much higher now than it has been for a long time. Many trucking companies will rotate trucks that are in service to allow some vehicles the chance for repairs. However, companies are now being forced to use all of their cabs. This may mean that COVID-19-related issues persist for longer because there will be a rush for maintenance when things slow down, but there will not be the capacity in the shops to handle all of the trucks.
In addition, maintenance shops are not able to run at full capacity right now to fix the trucks that come in for repair. Even though maintenance shops are handling fewer trucks, they are still struggling to fill repair orders because they have difficulty finding enough employees. COVID-19 has sickened employees and forced many to stay home, either sick themselves or taking care of a family member. Maintenance shops house a large number of workers under one roof, and shops have been forced to send home workers who are coughing or do not feel well.
The maintenance shops themselves need to change the way they work on trucks due to the pandemic. Now, they have to maintain distancing and find ways to work on trucks with their employees separated. This has proven to be a challenge for maintenance shops with which they are still grappling.
In general, the risks to the people who work at these truck maintenance facilities are high. Truckers often drop their cabs off at the maintenance depot right after making a run to a grocery store. There is a heightened chance that the truckers could be infected themselves because they have been in contact with people at the store. This further changes the way that maintenance shops operate and introduces an obstacle to them being able to do their jobs.
Maintenance shops are also reporting an increase in the need for roadside assistance for malfunctioning trucks. The stresses caused by COVID-19 and the lack of predictive and preventative maintenance are causing trucks to break down more often on the side of the road.
Another difficulty comes from the fact that parts inventories are tight right now. Truck companies may be ordering large amounts of repair parts to ensure that they have them when needed. However, this means that inventories are depleted and other trucking companies cannot get their hands on the necessary components to keep their vehicles in proper working order.
Due to Covid-19 Truck Maintenance Inspection Requirements Have Been Temporarily Loosened
On the inspection side, COVID-19 is also presenting issues that make it more difficult for trucks to get their required inspection. Federal regulations require that trucks obtain an inspection every 12 months that is carried out by a trained and certified inspector.
One of the main ways that states ensure that trucks follow safety regulations and are in working order is through roadside inspections. Many times, inspectors will spontaneously pull trucks over on the side of the road and subject them to random on-the-spot inspections. This is another tool that the government has to make sure that trucks are safe. When truck drivers are pulled over for traffic violations, they are often subjected to vehicle safety inspections during the traffic stop. As a trucking accident attorney would advise, states need to follow federal rules for inspections and safety in order to qualify for federal funding.
However, social distancing requirements may mean that fewer of these stops are made by state officials. Even when traffic stops are made, inspectors will not want to perform a close inspection of the truck due to concerns about their own safety. Moreover, the trucks may not be properly sanitized after making their deliveries to stores impacted by COVID-19.
States seem to have understood early after the pandemic hit that their efforts to enforce requirements through safety inspections would be impacted. Several states posed questions to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration asking whether they could relax roadside inspections in order to keep their own workers safe. The FMCSA responded that states should, to the extent possible, continue to make roadside inspections. However, the FMCSA said that they understood the need to keep people safe and that there would be an understandable impact on the number and type of inspections conducted.
There is an anticipation that inspection efforts may shift from in-person efforts to off-site audits during COVID-19. This will look more at practices and processes as opposed to the individual safety of the truck itself. In other words, carriers will receive emails and phone calls about inspections instead of the physical knock on the door or being pulled over on the side of the road. This would increase the risk that dangerous trucks are on the roadway. On-the-spot truck inspections are a valuable way of ensuring that trucks are safe because problems may arise between annual inspections, especially when trucks are pressed into service more often.
The Danger to the Public Is Increased
All of this adds up to a situation in which the dangers to drivers on the roadways are increased. Trucks are running longer without the chance to receive COVID-19 truck maintenance as often as they otherwise would. At the same time, inspections are less frequent and more cursory due to the need for social distancing. Thus, there is a greater risk that trucks may break down while in operation. Even worse, truck drivers may lose control of vehicles while they are running. Regardless of the safety efforts that truckers may make, the risk increases that they are driving around on more dangerous cabs. Therefore, the chance of harm to the general public is on the rise.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, contact a trucking accident attorney at RAM Law by calling (732) 394-1549 in New Brunswick or Somerville to learn more about your legal rights.