FMCSA study: Infrared brake inspections not ready for national use

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 6/27/2014

The results of a study on “smart” infrared cameras that could be used to help law enforcement identify vehicles with brake or tire deficiencies show the devices have an 83 percent success rate.

But law enforcement officers who field-tested the device in Tennessee during a 2010 field operations study say that although they see the technology as having potential to increase productivity in terms of screening for inspections, they think that it’s not ready for national use.

“In general, (the cameras system) was believed to have great potential in the enforcement community relative to increased productivity when used as a screening tool,” the report stated. “However, all of the troopers agreed that in its current condition, (the system) was not ready for national deployment because of instability and inaccuracy in flagging vehicles with potential defects.”

Known as “SIRIS” (Smart Infrared Inspection System) – the system is designed to use thermal data from wheel components to assess whether a vehicle is in need of further inspection. The trials were conducted at inspection stations in Tennessee from September to October, 2010, but the report was released Thursday, June 26, by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The test version of the system was made up of two thermal infrared cameras, one on either side of the inspection lane; a visible camera; a vehicle presence detection sensor; wheel triggers; roadside electronics for system control and power management; and cross-lane cabling for the remote camera system. In addition, a fiber cable from the roadside inspection equipment was connected to a computer and monitor system located within the nearby scale-house.

During the course of the testing, a total of 413 commercial vehicles were given a Level-1 inspection. Of those, 384 were also subjected to a SIRIS screening. A total of 36 vehicles, or about 9 percent of the screened vehicles, were flagged by the system as having one or more thermal issues, with brake issues accounting for nearly 92 percent of those. Of the 36 vehicles flagged as having thermal issues, 31 (86.11 percent) were found to have a violation and 30 (83.33 percent) were placed out-of-service according to the report.

While the OOIDA has no official position on using infrared technology to pre-screen commercial vehicles for potential inspections, the OOIDA Foundation said the 83 percent rate of identifying vehicles with serious brake safety violations would need to be improved.

“One of the chief problems is that the detection can alert an inspector to a brake problem but it cannot diagnose what the problem is,” according to a statement from the Foundation. “During a roadside inspection the inspector can tell the driver what the problem is and the driver can often fix the problem and move on. If you don’t know why the brakes showed hot then you may be sitting for a long time or you may have to call out a brake mechanic, extremely difficult, to diagnose and fix the problem. A simple problem with a simple fix could be a costly problem.”

The report also stated that many of the troopers “were concerned with the level of downtime for SIRIS and the number of times the cameras had to be reset in order for vehicles to be detected,” as well as concerns about the low rate of detection. The report states that vehicle speed, and weather conditions such as rain or cold temperatures also contributed to unreliable results.

The entire report is available here.

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