By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Monday, December 23, 2013
With more than 20 years under his belt as an owner-operator, OOIDA Life Member John Van Dyke thought he’d seen it all before he called home at 4:30 a.m. on Oct. 29. As a long-hauler and veteran driver, he’d called his wife and dispatcher, Monica, thousands of times at their Millersburg, Mich., home.
John called home to tell Monica that not only had his 2005 Western Star and load of applesauce been impounded over an alleged logbook violation, but the trooper had dropped him off at a truck stop some 260 miles from home. The Michigan state trooper was forcing John to take a 34-hour out-of-service order restart over “logbook falsification.”
“He dumped me at a truck stop at 4 a.m.,” John, 64, told Land Line Magazine. “He didn’t ask about money to get a hotel room or anything.”
The inspection of John’s truck that late October morning is being eyed closely by the truck driver, his employer and the trooper’s supervisor before Van Dyke’s appearance in court next month. The driver’s employer – also an OOIDA member – plans to take the trooper to court to recover damages stemming from the Level II inspection.
On Oct. 29, OOIDA Member John Van Dyke was driving through Jackson, Mich., when he was stopped for an inspection by Michigan State Police trooper E. Larson. During the inspection, the trooper asked for the driver’s current and old logbooks, spending 90 minutes in his patrol car going through the books.
Van Dyke said the trooper pointed out the driver had written 12-28 instead of 10-28 for the previous day’s entry, though Van Dyke said he hadn’t yet signed the logbook. Throughout the inspection, Van Dyke said the trooper carried an angry tone.
“You’re the kind of driver I’m trying to get off the road,” Van Dyke recalled the trooper saying. “He said, ‘you run too tight.’”
The trooper also cited Van Dyke for having a cracked windshield and for missing a step on his truck’s passenger side. Van Dyke’s truck was driven to an impound lot by a tow truck driver.
Carl Boley, a compliance agent with OOIDA’s Member Assistance Department, drove truck for 30 years before working at the Association’s Grain Valley, Mo., office. Boley said 10 hours is the most Van Dyke should have been placed out of service.
“I’ve never in my life seen anyone placed out-of-service for 34 hours over a logbook violation,” Boley said.
Van Dyke said he will fight the citation in court.
Vanessa Harden, owner and president of W Trucking, the Georgia-based carrier Van Dyke is leased on with, said she had never heard of a logbook violation sparking a 34-hour OOS order. Harden also said she believed her insurance policy would not have covered any damages had the tow company employee been involved in a wreck.
“He had somebody drive my equipment who was not insured to do so,” Harden said. “God forbid that had been a seriously liable situation that the officer put us in when he didn’t need to do so.”
In addition to the headache of losing the driver and load to the OOS order, the alleged violation has already slammed W Trucking’s CSA score. Harden said immediately after the citation was issued, the company’s 39 percentile ranking in the HOS category jumped to 85 percent.
Harden, a driver for years before starting her nine-truck company, said she is working with an attorney to prepare a lawsuit over the way the trooper treated Van Dyke.
“We don’t like going to court. Court is something we usually try to avoid,” Harden said, with a laugh. “We don’t want to do anything unfair or unjust, but we do want to stand up for what’s right and what’s wrong.”
The trooper’s supervisor, Michigan Sgt. Brett Black, said depending on how the logbook was read, the violation could have legitimately prompted either a 10-hour or 34-hour OOS order.
“The 34 hours could have been correct, possibly,” Black said. “I never did see the logbook.”
Black, a former owner-operator himself, said trucks must be removed from the roadside and said troopers may either require a tow or have a tow service drive the truck to an impound lot.
“The driving is typically about half the cost of the towing – and typically we offer that first,” Black said. “I don’t set the fines or rates for the tow companies, but in my experience it is always substantially cheaper. Very rarely do we tow where they actually hook it up and tow it.”
When it comes to taking a driver placed out of service from the roadside, Black said he typically takes drivers where they ask to be driven.
“If the guy says, ‘yeah, take me to the closest hotel,’ I’m gonna do that,” Black said. “We can’t leave guys on the side of the road.”
The single most common violation Black sees from commercial truck drivers is logbooks that aren’t updated.
“You’re talking less than a minute to save yourself $100 or $150 depending on the jurisdiction’s court charges,” Black said. “Far and away that’s the most common one.”
In Van Dyke’s case, the driver could have refused the trooper’s request to go through his old logbooks. Because alleged logbook violations are specific to the jurisdiction in which they occurred, Black said there is rarely use for troopers to go through older logbooks.
“They’re only required to present the seven previous days and today,” Black said. “The real root of the issue is venue. I have to have venue with my courts and jurisdiction to take enforcement action. I hate to say it, but with most people there’s not a case to write a ticket.”
The trooper’s actions that October morning may not have been common practice, but company owner Harden said they shouldn’t ever happen to a truck driver.
“From my point of view, the officer made some big mistakes,” she said. “We are definitely going to make sure the state of Michigan doesn’t do this to anyone else, and hopefully we’ll save some carriers some heartache in the future.”
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