Estimates from the nonprofit TRIP recently reported that vehicle miles traveled in West Virginia in 2019 was 19.1 billion miles and $125 billion worth of goods are shipped to and from locations in West Virginia each year. West Virginia. About 64% of these goods are transported by trucks, reports TRIP.
All of this on interstates, highways and other roads which, being the mountain state, present unique challenges, especially for truckers.
Forty-seven West Virginia Public Service Commission Transportation Division law enforcement officers stay busy year-round to make sure these truckers — and by default, other motorists — arrive to destination safely.
“We’ve given a great transportation division, and the officers are all doing a great job,” said PSC President Charlotte R. Lane. “Drivers are much safer because of the work they do. As you know, they inspect large trucks and make sure the trucks are safe.
“They can also, if they see speeding trucks, stop the speeders and then do a safety inspection as well. Our officers do a very good job, and I’m very proud of them and the work they do. All citizens of West Virginia are better off because of the work they do,” Lane said.
“They do a lot of educational outreach, and that’s very important as well. … The public needs to know exactly what they are doing and can rely on the Public Service Commission to keep highways safe,” Lane said.
Reggie Bunner is a law enforcement officer who is one of the managers of the Transportation Division. 30 years ago, he embarked on a specialty of control under trucks “climbing” a mechanical creeper.
Bunner said the Transportation Division’s 47 law enforcement officers are based away from home and are “dispersed throughout the state.”
“Shifts vary from supervisor to supervisor, sector to sector. We’re usually out during the day, mostly. But we work nights and nights, we get called out to wrecks any time of the day or night,” Bunner said.
The primary focus of the Transportation Division is vehicle safety, which is accomplished by enforcing the regulations of Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, a lengthy document. There are companion safety rules in West Virginia, Bunner said.
Transportation Division officers focus on commercial vehicles with a vehicle weight rating over 10,000 pounds. A vehicle can weigh more than 10,000 but be used for personal transportation or personal belongings and not be covered, Bunner said.
But if someone has, say, a carpentry business and they use a vehicle rated at over 10,000 pounds to transport things they’ve made to flea markets or art and craft fairs crafts for sale, “that would be considered commerce,” Bunner said.
And PSC Transportation Division officers can also enforce laws when the combined weight rating of a commercial vehicle and trailer exceeds 10,000 pounds, Bunner said.
Bunner said Transportation Division officers are not “predisposed to write tickets.”
“What we do are safety inspections. And yes, unfortunately, sometimes we write tickets. … We can write tickets if a driver’s license has been suspended. Of course, we occasionally write speeding tickets; we can enforce speeding tickets. There’s just a plethora of things we can write tickets for. We are law enforcement officers, so we enforce Chapter 17C of the West Virginia Code; height and weight, measurements, we can write tickets for just about anything you can think of,” Bunner said.
“Usually it’s some type of defect on the commercial vehicle itself, whether it’s a flat tire or a brake problem. The braking rules are pretty strict, and a semi is going to have 10 brakes on it, so each brake has certain limitations that we look at,” Bunner said.
“We look at the pads, we look at the air hoses in the brake system. We look for thin places or crimped places in airlines because if there is a restriction in the airflow the brake will not work on the other end. The load securing is probably a high enough violation to not have enough securing, or a tie-down securing may be damaged and not within the working load limits for which it was designed. Flashers in the back of a commercial vehicle, that’s a pretty common violation,” Bunner said.
Transportation Division officers are also trying to “educate the public and the industry as much as possible.”
The Transportation Division became what it is today after legislation was passed at the turn of the century merging the part of the PSC that handled safety inspections and the part of the Highways Department of the state which until then had been responsible for the application of the weight.
“Now we enforce both security and weight, so there are no longer two agencies stopping motor vehicles,” Bunner said.
Officers have full powers of arrest and are armed, he added. When serious crimes occur under their watch, defendants are taken “immediately before the magistrate,” Bunner said.
As with other law enforcement agencies, hiring has been a “huge struggle … over the last seven or eight years,” Bunner said.
“It’s a pretty steep hill to climb, to recruit young officers and to recruit officers. In the last couple of years we’ve had a bit more success,” he said. “We were able to adjust our job descriptions and we were able to get a little increase in salaries, increase our starting salaries a little bit.
“For three or four years, we have been recruiting officers. But we’re such a small agency… you know, our work is very deep. People don’t realize that you have to go to the State Police Academy for the basic course, which now lasts between 16 and 18 weeks. Well, there’s an extra 240 hours of federal coursework that’s required to teach officers how to inspect a commercial vehicle, what items to look at,” Bunner said.
“Accreditation is huge in commercial vehicles: running the driver’s license, making sure the driver’s license is valid. If it’s a CDL truck, a commercial driver’s license truck, then drug testing is involved,” Bunner said. “So there is a lot of additional training beyond the State Police Academy. After you hire an officer and after he graduates from the academy, there’s another 12 months of on-the-job training, taking federal courses, doing inspections, getting certified to do that course and by taking additional courses. There is a lot to learn. There is a lot to do when inspecting a commercial vehicle.
During the pandemic, their officers have developed protocols “on how to exchange documents with drivers. Our inspections went down slightly, but we still maintained a good level of inspections throughout the pandemic, as well as shutdowns,” he said.
And the federal government, he added, “has issued several waivers for vehicles, for food products and hospital items.”
Overall, “it’s a great job,” Bunner said.
Truckers are professionals “for the most part”, he said. “They know what we are doing and they want us to be there.”
“And the president we have, she’s excellent,” he said. “She believes in us 110% and she supports us 110%. It is a very good organization. »