FOX 11 Investigates unchecked dangers on Wisconsin roadways
WRIGHTSTOWN (WLUK) -- Truckers around the state recently were subjected to a random brake inspection by the Wisconsin State Patrol. On April 25, 128 vehicles were inspected. Of those, 21 vehicles were found to be in violation -- a safety concern -- and taken off the roads until they could be repaired.
That raises the question of how many more trucks, not inspected, are driving with potentially dangerous safety concerns?
Corey Dahl has been inspecting these big rigs on Wisconsin roadways for the past 18 years. He’s part of 90 inspectors with the Wisconsin State Patrol, manning 13 Safety and Weight Enforcement Facilities around the state.
“We are trying to find those vehicles that are unsafe to get them off the road and have that violation corrected so they can travel on down the road safely,” said Dahl.
Last year, they thoroughly inspected more than 37,000 commercial motor vehicles. They’re on pace to do the same this year.
And yet the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance calculates the number of trucks randomly inspected nationwide is less than one percent.
That’s not to say trucks aren’t inspected. There are multiple levels of inspection.
Every motor carrier requires preventative maintenance. There are annual DOT inspections. And driver logs are inspected daily. The random inspections at these weigh stations are kind of a double check. And yet they still turn up a surprising number of trucks that shouldn’t be on the road.
“Those would-be violations that we find that would make that truck out of service,” said Dahl. “The national average is about 20 percent.”
Last year in Milwaukee County a worn-out brake drum -- that law enforcement says wouldn’t have passed inspection -- broke loose from a big rig in rush hour traffic. Part of it flew through the windshield of a car, instantly killing the driver, Jay Tichelaar of Brookfield. His wife, Joleen, now advocates proper inspections in the state.
“These truck inspections are necessary to save lives,” said Joleen Tichelaar. “They’re not done to annoy drivers and slow things down; they are to prevent horrible, horrible accidents like this from happening.”
“The massive size of trucks and their huge mechanical parts make them a weapon of destruction when not properly maintained,” said acting Milwaukee County Sheriff Richard Schmidt.
The Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, Milwaukee Police Department and Wisconsin State Patrol formed a task force in their area to help randomly inspect trucks. Schmidt says more help is needed.
“There’s a lot of trucks, there’s a lot of highways. We only have a limited number of officers between all of our agencies,” said Schmidt.
Not all counties have such resources. And State Patrol doesn’t have the manpower to keep its inspection stations open on a full-time basis. When you see the "closed" sign it could mean the inspectors are out patrolling traffic and handling a crash.
FOX 11 Investigates asked Dahl: “Would you agree that more inspectors would maybe make the roads safer?”
“Well, I think anytime we have as many people as possible doing inspections we’re going to have that many more inspections being done and they’re going to be contacting more trucks and drivers to make the roads safer,” said Dahl.
Back in 2013, Gov. Scott Walker’s budget included a request for 24 additional inspectors. At that time, State Patrol had 101 motor carrier inspectors, down from 109 in 2003, even though truck traffic has steadily increased. The DOT indicated additional inspectors would help make Wisconsin roadways safer. Ultimately the request was removed from the budget.
“The governor put it in in 2013,” said State Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay. “And joint finance took it out and five years later it has not even been discussed. So those 24 positions, added onto the 90 that are inspectors, has not been considered for five years for whatever reason.”
FOX 11 Investigates shared the current figures with Hansen. Those figures show that the 37,000 inspections last year divided by inspection facilities and days in the year comes out to about eight inspections conducted per day per facility.
“If you look at (Interstate) 41, you can find 100 in about 10 minutes, probably 20 minutes. Lots of traffic not being checked on and that’s a concern. Safety is a concern. These vehicles should be safe on the road,” said Hansen.
Kyle McHugh has been driving a truck for several years out of Mosinee. He says his truck is routinely weighed, and he’s never in violation. But a random State Patrol inspection?
FOX 11 Investigates asked McHugh when was the last inspection by State Patrol done on his truck?
“On the roadside it has been a long time. I don’t remember when,” said McHugh.
McHugh says his company regularly does maintenance checks as required. But he knows not everyone is as safety-conscious.
“There’s bad drivers in every category. I don’t care, car or truck, doesn’t matter,” said McHugh.
Inspector Dahl found McHugh’s truck in perfect running order. A sticker was placed on the windshield to identify it passed the inspection. It’s good for 90 days.
But what about the other 99 percent of the trucks out there that aren’t being randomly checked?
While gathering information for this story, FOX 11 Investigates followed Dahl while doing truck inspections during an unannounced random brake check inspection day on April 25.
During that day around the state, State Patrol inspectors completed 128 truck inspections as part of that unannounced check. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which oversees the State Patrol, tells FOX 11 Investigates of the 128 inspections, 21 vehicles inspected had brake violations and were placed “out-of-service” until the violations were corrected. That’s 16 percent of the vehicles inspected that day.
A second, announced, inspection initiative is scheduled for Brake Safety Week starting Sept. 16. The State Patrol commercial motor vehicle inspectors will conduct brake system inspections on large trucks and buses throughout Wisconsin to identify out-of-adjustment brakes and brake-system violations.