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Regular inspections on heavy duty vehicles

With the abolition of minimum safety costs, catching "smart guys" travelling in violation of HOS ( hours of service ) regulations as well as the most basic technical standards becomes paramount. A matter of fair competition, but also of collective safety. Here's the situation


Fabio Quinto

A slow, steady increase. But what a struggle: between budget problems and absent public institutions, roadside inspections on trucks in Italy are still totally insufficient to counter the rampant lawlessness that is afflicting the sector, starting with illegal cabotage by foreign vehicles. And with legal requirements on minimum cost of safety now abolished, the Italian trucking sector is likely to be left completely defenseless in the face of unfair competition.


But how are these controls made? The most effective way involves not only the police, but also MOT centers specialists, often with the aid of mobile inspection centers. These are semi-trailers fitted with roller brake testers and a small cab with all the necessary instruments. So far, 29 are currently used in Italy: far too few, but the resources are so scarce that the current 29 mobile centers can barely manage to be used regularly. Usually trucks are intercepted on the highway by the Traffic Police, and then led to a real mini-MOT inspection. First the documents: driver's license, vehicle registration document, transport card (now abolished), Community driving license. Not only. The driver is also required to show the paycheck, to verify that he is not an illegal worker. Once the documents have been checked, It is time to look at the Hour of Service time. The log book is inserted into a reader, and from there all the movements of the driver in the last 28 days of activity can be seen. The search for magnets and other devices occurs only in case of suspicious trends in the tachograph data: sudden drops of speed, excessively fast trips or other abnormalities. While the police carries out the necessary document inspections, the MOT specialists examine the vehicle looking for any other irregularity. Starting from the load, which is checked for correspondence with what is written in the transport documents.

Then all the lights are checked. But the inspection does not stop there: also the tread of the tires are controlled to find any possible presence of cuts and other damages. Furthermore, the vehicle is made to steer a few times to check for any vibration of the steering arms and suspensions. Even the center pin is subjected to control: two or three accelerations are made with the brakes on, to change the pitch of the tractor and verify whether the trailer remains hooked. Following this the truck is led on the ramps of the mobile inspection center. All axles and brakes are tested much the same way as it happens during a normal MOT inspection test. At this point an opacimeter is used to analyze exhaust gases. Inspection specialists cannot perform other in-depth checks by removing parts of the vehicle, as is the case in Switzerland, since control procedures are regulated by a two standard European laws, the Directives 2000/30 and 2010/47.


Some vehicles pass these inspections, some do not. According to the latest data released by the Ministry of Transport, related to 2013, out of a total of 12.016 vehicles checked with these mobile inspection centers, 46% had technical anomalies, while 24% did not fully comply with the documents. Among the vehicles that showed technical problems, in 65% of cases these were minor infringements, such as non-functioning marker lights or damaged fenders. In 35% of cases irregularities were defined as "serious". What does it mean? In addition to serious irregularities involving the brakes, a typical case – as stated by the specialists of an MOT center in Milan - is that of an excessive play between the steering rod and gear.

The component is therefore likely to fall off, causing sudden changes in direction that cannot be controlled by the driver, such as the one seen August 4, 2008 in the tragic accident in Cessalto (Treviso), where a truck totally out of control caused a disaster: 7 dead and two wounded. In this case MOT inspectors apply on the vehicle registration document a label in four languages: "non-complying vehicle with Directive 2010/47 EC. Suspended from circulation". The driver cannot regain the motorway, and moving at a maximum speed of 40 km / h must reach the nearest workshop and immediately repair the damage. All this, however, without the escort of the Police. And the fines in these cases are far too low, a couple of dozens of euro.


But this sort of mobile inspection is not the only control on trucks made by the police. There are also ordinary ones. Every three months a technical committee meets in the Prefecture to establish the inspection schedule for the next three months. During this meeting the Police, Carabinieri, Finance Police, Local Police, Provincial Police and Labor Inspectorate all participate. This instrument was established way back in 2009 following the Maroni-Matteoli protocol. Since then, little or nothing at all has been done by our politicians. According to the latest figures for the first half of 2014, inspected vehicles were around 175.592, an increase of 2.4% over the same period of 2013. But still too little compared to the 1.6 million vehicles inspected every year in France and the 2.6 million in Germany. And unless the old, though worthy, Maroni-Matteoli protocol is reviewed, things are probably not going to change. And now that even minimum safety costs have been abolished, law abiding companies and road safety cannot but lose out.

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