Larry Beck maneuvered his International semitrailer truck into a parking stall at the port of entry 3 miles east of Wendover. With a polite "sir," Beck greeted the Utah Highway Patrol trooper there to inspect his truck.
Beck was one of hundreds of truckers stopped by UHP troopers Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as part of periodic blockades to monitor compliance with federal and state truck safety standards.After minor brake adjustments, Beck was back on the road. But other truckers were not so lucky. Trucks with serious safety violations were forced out of operation.
It is that tougher safety standard implemented by the UHP that could be responsible for a growing awareness of trucker safety on Utah highways. Today's commercial truckers boast an impressive safety record.
Traffic accidents and fatalities involving semitrailer trucks in Utah have fallen dramatically in the past three years: accidents by more than 25 percent and fatalities by almost 50 percent.
According to Utah statistics, there were 2,338 truck-related accidents in 1984, 2,197 in 1985 and 1,719 in 1986. In terms of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles, the fatality rate has dropped from 6.22 in 1984 to 5.0 in 1985 and 3.42 in 1986.
During the same time period, accidents for automobiles dropped by only 4.5 percent.
Not all states can boast improvement, however. Violations in California, for example, run in excess of 60 percent of the trucks stopped. And fatalities attributed to truck accidents there have almost doubled since 1982.
"We would like to think it (Utah's reduced accident rate) is because of the pressure put on the trucking industry by the state inspection program," said Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Don Darlington.
It's not just the programs instituted by the UHP. Surrounding states have also beefed up their inspection programs, and trucking companies are emphasizing safety and truck maintenance like never before.
"The big companies take a lot of pride in their rigs and most are concerned about their trucks. We're looking for the ones who don't care," Darlington said.
Many truckers have a love-hate relationship with the blockades. While they like the idea of getting unsafe and unsavory truckers off the roads, they don't particularly like the idea of lost time at roadblocks. But they put up with it.
"It gives me a better opportunity to make sure my truck is up to standard," Beck said.
The United Brotherhood of Teamsters and Warehouseman Local 222 in Salt Lake City stand behind the blockades, too.
Two dozen troopers set up the inspection station at the Wendover port-of-entry to stop upwards of 1,500 rigs a day, said Darlington, head of the patrol's truck inspection program.
Inspectors measured brake adjustments, inspected tires and axles and reviewed drivers logs looking for possible violations that might endanger drivers and other motorist.
Truckers could be cited for restricted service for minor infractions like maladjusted brakes, or other mechanical problems that can be repaired immediately at the next available service station.
Major infractions, such as a severely cracked tire, could result in the truck being taking out of service until the problem is repaired, a fairly rare occurrence, he said.
When the state first started the roadblocks, more than 50 percent of the truckers stopped were cited for violations. Since then, the percentages have steadily fallen.
During a recent 72-hour roadblock near St. George, the UHP pulled over 569 trucks, of which 34 percent were taken off the roads for various violations. An estimated 4,000 other trucks were waved through the roadblocks because they bore decals indicating they had been inspected in other states.
"We've seen tremendous improvement in the short time we've been doing this," said Darlington.