They may look similar at first blush, but today’s weigh station is a far cry from those of yesteryear. With technological advances, gone are the days when inspection officers relied solely on their intuition in choosing which vehicles needed to go through a Level 3 inspection. Today, there are many technology-enabled inspection sites that perform initial scans to make sure officers can dedicate their time to looking at the trucks that are most in need of inspection.
That’s because “smart” roadside weigh stations dot the United States and Canada, with more being added each year. These technology-filled stations feature new advancements, including vehicle waveform identification and advanced thermal imaging systems.
To get a better feel for how technology is advancing, let’s take a look at three things you might not know about modern weigh stations and answer a couple common questions:
Feeling the Heat
At the heart of many inspection station systems is thermal inspection technology, which can heat-sense thermal signatures associated with unsafe and defective equipment, such as inoperative brakes, failed bearings, and under-inflated or damaged tires.
Advanced image processing, coupled with decision-making algorithms embedded in proprietary screening software, searches and flags possible defects that require a more thorough inspection. It’s a huge time saver for law enforcement and lets inspectors focus more of their time on the trucks that truly need checking.
Scanning for Information
Automated readers are tools used to collect and process information in real-time before a vehicle has arrived at the inspection site. Even when a truck is moving at highway speed, high-definition strobe cameras can capture and scan its DOT and license plate numbers, CVSA sticker, and hazmat placard, and then access information from over 90 government databases to provide enforcement officers with an instant, detailed description of the vehicle and carrier.
There’s no saying, ‘it wasn’t me.’ As you approach the scales, overview cameras snap a photo of your vehicle, so that officers can match it with the information accessed by the automated readers, mainly the license plate and U.S. DOT Number.
Much of this technology even goes mobile. There are some roadside mobile systems that provide the ability to identify potential safety and security violations at sites where fixed stations are impractical or cost prohibitive. These systems also provide the ability for continuous enforcement presence and data collection on a temporary basis.
Weighty Facts and Tracking Trucks
The true purpose of screening technologies is to help officers in the station work smarter, not harder, and to help in their decision-making when selecting vehicles for close inspection. Weigh-In-Motion (WIM) is one more piece of the puzzle that law enforcement can use to improve the inspection process.
An example of WIM in practice is The Commercial Vehicle Information Systems and Networks (CVISN) use of WIM scales, which are embedded in the roadway about a half-mile ahead of the inspection station. When a truck drives over the scale, the scale house receives information about the vehicle’s weight within milliseconds.
To ensure data from those weight readings are assigned to the right truck and trailer, an electronic screening platform can gather data via vehicle waveform identification (VWI). This uses in-road mounted sensors to identify vehicles by measuring the truck and trailer’s magnetic ‘signature.’ Each truck and trailer, even those spec’d identically, generate a unique magnetic footprint. While the signature changes over time, VWI can still recognize the readings and assign them to the corresponding trucks and trailers with a high degree of accuracy.
Top Weigh Station Questions
From law enforcement involvement to quotas, there are several often asked questions related to weigh station activity:
1. Does law enforcement determine which vehicles are inspected?
The individual states and jurisdictions generally set up those guidelines, which vary widely. Some jurisdictions need probable cause to pull drivers in, and some can stop a truck "just because." Officers are generally given a lot of discretion, and some have their own system for selecting trucks for inspection. In the absence of any alerts produced by a screening system or any obvious violations insight of an inspector, it could be as simple as picking every fifth or tenth truck.
Suppose a truck is not automatically told to pass through by signage with integrated screening systems. How the vehicle is operated gives officers a clue as to whether they need to take a closer look. Officers will rely on several indicators, such as the general appearance of the vehicle — are lights working, do tires need replacement, is the load secure, and so on.
2. Do law enforcement officials have an inspection quota?
Yes, no, and it depends. In almost every jurisdiction, each inspector is required to perform a specific number of inspections. By regulation, each officer is required to do a certain number of level I inspections to maintain proficiency. In some states, full-time officers are mandated to conduct as many as 600 inspections a year.
As to whether there are quotas for citations — that's a total myth. In some jurisdictions requiring a citations quota is actually illegal.
3. What can your fleet do to reduce time spent at weigh station sites?
Make fleet safety a top priority. There is no doubt that commercial vehicle pull-ins and inspections play a critical role in maintaining highway and road safety. It is a crucial enforcement process and safeguard to keep unsafe vehicles or drivers off the road. Companies with an effective safety culture, that maintain good CSA scores, and keep trucks in top operating condition are less likely to catch inspectors’ attention.
Pre-clearing — bypassing — vehicles based on the state’s pre-determined safety criteria frees up inspection stations to focus on drivers, vehicles, or fleets that may need a closer look. But, with nearly 5.7 million interstate-licensed commercial trucks on the road today, and limited resources, inspection stations are often congested. Because of that, law enforcement needs to focus on “problem” carriers, drivers, and trucks.
Try Bypass Services
Weigh station bypass is a popular service with over-the-road carriers and owner-operators, but work truck drivers and regional carriers that regularly pass weigh stations can take advantage of the service as well. The average time a truck spends at a weigh station is 5 minutes – up to 30 minutes or more if a truck is called in for a Level III inspection.
Depending on a fleet’s safety scores, trucks can receive up to a 95% bypass rate at weigh stations enabled with bypass solutions, which can greatly cut down operating expenses associated with waiting at weigh stations.
It’s a win-win service for inspectors who want to inspect trucks that truly do need inspecting, and companies seeking a potential time-saving solution.
Curious about what connected services are out there for integrated weigh station bypass services? Drivewyze and Verizon announcement a partnership on connected truck services. In addition, Drivewyze is focused on keeping fleets safe, with the addition of severe weather alerts and the expansion of its E-Inspection initiative with seven states now offering pilot programs to expedite inspections at weigh stations.
About the Author: Brian Mofford is vice president of government experience at Drivewyze. This article was authored and edited according to WT editorial standards and style. Opinions expressed may not reflect that of WT.