Safety is the main goal of work at weigh stations
If you've cruised Interstate 81 from Greencastle to Chambersburg, you no doubt are aware of the two weigh stations — the Greencastle/Kauffman weigh station along I-81 north at mile marker 7 in Antrim Township and the Greencastle/Kauffman station at mile marker 10.5 southbound in Guilford Township.
Maybe the blue directional sign and off-ramp caught your eye or, more likely, the gaggle of Pennsylvania State Police cruisers that periodically park there got your attention.
But what, exactly, goes on at those weigh stations?
Across the state, the Pennsylvania State Police Commercial Vehicle Safety Division coordinates the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program.
The goal of the program is to use a strategy of education, regulatory oversight and enforcement to prevent crashes and save lives.
The CVSD is responsible for coordinating Pennsylvania’s vehicle weight enforcement and school bus safety programs.
Throughout Pennsylvania, more than 700 specially trained state and local police officers inspect commercial vehicles and their drivers for compliance with state and federal motor carrier safety regulations under the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program.
Inspections are conducted at interstate weigh stations as well as along many of the state’s frequently travelled rural roads.
Pennsylvania has just two permanent weigh station locations with stationary scales —both on Interstate 80 in Clarion.
All the other weigh stations, including the local ones in Antrim and Guilford townships, are either rest areas or other areas along the interstate where PennDOT brings out a van and sets up portable scales.
While inspecting commercial vehicles for safety compliance, many of Pennsylvania’s motor carrier enforcement professionals also weigh them in an effort to ensure they comply with Pennsylvania’s weight laws.
Each weigh station, whether permanent or portable, is manned by trained Motor Carrier Enforcement Officers.
"All MCEOs are federally certified. A regular trooper cannot perform inspections, but they can verify documents," explained Angel Garcia, Troop H community service officer for the Pennsylvania State Police at Chambersburg.
The trained officers have several types of inspections they can do during a weigh stop, Garcia said.
They can look at just the drivers, making sure the motorist has a valid operator license, is wearing his or her seatbelt and is in compliance with the numbers of hours allowed behind the wheel.
Other inspections could include the weight of the vehicle, equipment violations such as a cracked windshield or broken lights and anything else the officer can see, including an under-vehicle inspection of brakes, suspension and steering.
Garcia said it's up to the federal program to determine which types of inspections to perform at any given time, and the CVSD can specify which trucks to inspect, meaning even though all trucks are required to exit into the weigh station, only trucks of a certain color are inspected on a certain day.
Generally truck drivers are not notified of when weigh stations are open, however there are always signs placed in advance of the exits to alert them.
"Honestly, through CB radios, drivers generally have an idea whether the weigh station is open miles before they get there," admitted Kevin Stewart, president and CEO, Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association.
Truck drivers are required to stop if the weigh station is open. "If the driver bypasses when it's open, he may be subject to penalties," Stewart said. "They are gonna work their hardest to try to get over."
Stewart said the weigh stops can take 10 or 15 minutes or an hour or more, depending on the type of stop and any violations that may arise from it.
The interruption can cause concern for truck drivers.
"Depending on the length of time the inspection takes, they may run out of time," he said, adding the inspections counts against the number of hours a driver has on the road.
It can also affect their pick-up/drop-off.
"Drivers have appointment times when they load and unload," Stewart explained. "If you miss that appointment time, you may have to wait a whole day to get rescheduled and unloaded. Drivers get concerned from that standpoint."
Despite the slow roll, most drivers understand the importance of the stops.
"I think it's like anything else, the drivers really want to be operating safe trucks. They don't want to have unsafe trucks out there," Stewart said. "Many of them appreciate what law enforcement does with respect to roadside inspections."