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Focusing on fatigued truck drivers: As freight grows across Iowa, so do its dangers

Chris Wicklund, an officer with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement Agency, performs an inspection Wednesday at the Interstate 380 weigh station north of Brandon. During A 72-hour targeted enforcement period, called “International Roadcheck,” officers inspect commercial motor vehicles and drivers for compliance with safety standards. Drivers can be taken out of service if they or their vehicle is in violation of federal or state law. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Chris Wicklund, an officer with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement Agency, performs an inspection Wednesday at the Interstate 380 weigh station north of Brandon. During A 72-hour targeted enforcement period, called “International Roadcheck,” officers inspect commercial motor vehicles and drivers for compliance with safety standards. Drivers can be taken out of service if they or their vehicle is in violation of federal or state law. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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BRANDON — Officer Chris Wicklund with the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement Agency peered into the red Kenworth’s engine, slid under the semi-trailer on a mechanic’s creeper and checked the driver’s log book.

Wicklund was one of seven officers Wednesday at the Interstate 380 weigh station north of this Buchanan County community taking part in the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s three-day “International Roadcheck” program. Each vehicle checked went through a 37-step inspection of both the driver and vehicle.

The program takes place annually, but Tom Bruun, assistant chief with the Iowa DOT’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement Agency, said this year’s focus is on a growing issue nationwide — hours-of-service compliance.

“It’s all about safety. You want to make sure drivers are not ill or fatigued,” Bruun said. “We’re out there to keep the honest guy honest and, for the unsafe drivers or the guys who don’t want to follow the standard guidelines set by the regulations, we want to make sure they’re in compliance and get them off the road.”

According to a database of driver violations compiled by the U.S. DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there were nearly 33,000 violations issued last year nationwide for driving a large truck beyond the allowable 14-hour period. Of those violations, 1,735 were in Iowa.

“The top reason drivers were placed out of service during 2017 International Roadcheck was for hours-of-service violations,” Capt. Christopher Turner, with the Kansas Highway Patrol and president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said in a statement. “Thirty-two percent of drivers who were placed out of service during last year’s three-day International Roadcheck were removed from our roadways due to violations related to hours-of-service regulations. It’s definitely an area we need to call attention to this year.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration also reports that impairment — caused by fatigue, illness or alcohol and drug use — among large truck drivers contributed to 157 fatal crashes in 2016.

Of those impaired driving fatalities, the administration reports that 70, or nearly half, were caused by the driver falling asleep or driving while fatigued.

If a driver is found to be in violation of hours-of-service rules, Sgt. Jeff Jones, with the Iowa DOT’s Motor Vehicle Enforcement Agency, said he or she is asked to pull over for a required rest before returning to the road. Besides being placed out of service for hours, drivers may also face fines.

“It’s important. We don’t want them dozing off or falling asleep,” Jones said.

Jones added that new federal rules, which took effect late last year and require the use of electronic logging devices, make it easier to monitor drivers’ time on the road to make sure they aren’t overexerting themselves.

Jones said the increased inspections at both Brandon weigh stations had netted 247 violations Tuesday. Of those, 25 vehicles were placed out of service for needed repairs or mechanical fixes and one driver was placed out of service for driving while intoxicated and possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia.

Safe driving becomes all the more important as the freight industry grows, Bruun added.

Iowa’s first multimodal freight plan, released in 2016 by the Iowa DOT, found that large truck traffic on Iowa’s primary roads had grown by 123 percent over the last three decades, with Eastern Iowa’s portion of Interstate 80 seeing the highest truck activity.

Large truck traffic is projected to grow by more than 60 percent by 2040, according to the report.

l Comments: (319) 398-8309; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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