- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

Maryland State Police have dramatically increased the number of truck inspections they conduct on major highways since September 11, out of concern that large trucks could be used in terrorist attacks.
From January to June, the State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division performed 40,601 primary inspections, up 23 percent from the same period last year, when they conducted 32,859 inspections, according to a report issued by state police.
Police also weighed 805,000 commercial vehicles during this period, a 24 percent increase from last year's total of 648,335 trucks.
Sgt. Doug Morris of the Vehicle Enforcement Division said police are stretching their personnel to keep inspection stations open 24 hours whenever possible, and at least 16 hours in most cases.
Some stations are closed for a day on a rotating basis, but in those cases, police still have two roving crews of officers in vehicles in the area. There are 22 roving crews in all, Sgt. Morris said.
There are 70 sworn officers in the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, and they work in conjunction with cadets and 80 civilian inspectors to staff the 10 inspection stations in Maryland.
The revamped schedule is wearing on the officers, Sgt. Morris said.
"It's a strain on a lot of the troopers because they generally work day work or the late shift, and now they're working 24-hour shifts," he said.
"It's a real nightmare for the supervisors."
The heightened security has created delays at inspection stations that have angered many truck drivers, said Daryl Parmiter, a spokesman for the American Truckers Legal Association, based in Washington.
Many truck drivers think the majority of police inspections are unneeded, Mr. Parmiter said.
"The feeling is that 90 percent of the time it's not necessary," he said. "Ninety-nine percent of these guys are out there just doing their job."
Truck drivers have complained of long backups at inspection stations that cause inconvenience, delays in shipping and sometimes even a safety hazard, Mr. Parmiter said.
"You come off a 6 percent grade, and there are 60 to 70 trucks backed up, lined up on the interstate. That's dangerous," he said. "It's a hazard."
Some truckers also think the inspections are just an opportunity to load the state's coffers by issuing citations.
"They think it's all a money issue and not so much safety," Mr. Parmiter said.
There were 32,295 drivers who were issued citations "for a multitude of violations," said the police report. Those fines totaled more than $4.9 million, said Sgt. Morris.
Of those 32,295 citations, 8,342 were overweight citations, 113 were alcohol violations, and there were 50 criminal arrests, Sgt. Morris said. Police also issued 23,225 warnings, he said.
Sgt. Morris acknowledged that trucks picked for inspection have a one in two chance of receiving some kind of citation, according to the numbers.
However, he said, police usually choose to inspect trucks that look like they are in violation.
"We're only inspecting 2 percent of the total vehicles coming down the highway. We're picking the vehicles that we feel there's going to be serious violations with," Sgt. Morris said.
Additionally, he said, officers often significantly reduce the penalties when they issue citations, and many truck drivers are kept safe by the inspections.
"If I was a truck driver, I would want to know if the brakes are out of adjustment," Sgt. Morris said.
Walter Thompson, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Maryland Motor Truck Association, said Maryland's inspection stations were already top-notch before September 11.
"They are very aggressive in their enforcement and we support them wholeheartedly," Mr. Thompson said. "We have absolutely no problem with it."
Mr. Thompson said that tankers carrying diesel fuel or gasoline are under closer scrutiny now, as are rental vehicles.
An effort is under way to strip truck drivers of their licensing to haul hazardous materials if they have criminal records, he said.
"An area that they're really stressing is the individual," he said. "They're not just inspecting the vehicles but the people."
The 10 inspection stations in Maryland are located in Hyattstown, Upper Marlboro, College Park, Perryville, Salisbury, Darlington, Parkton, New Market, Midlothian and West Friendship.
Each station is usually run by one sergeant, one corporal, four troopers, four transportation inspectors and two cadets, Sgt. Morris said.

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