State Sen. Dave Schatz says the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department’s commercial vehicle enforcement (CVEU) unit is unsafe and unconstitutional.
Citing those reasons, Schatz has added a section to his SB 1050 specifying “roadside safety inspections shall not be performed on the shoulder of any highway with a posted speed limit in excess of 40 miles per hour.”
“I’ve talked with the highway patrol and these roadside inspections are unsafe for the driving public,” he said. “Vehicles are being pulled over just for the purposes of these random safety checks and that’s not right. If the driving public was pulled over for these random things they wouldn’t stand for it.”
Schatz said although he already considered the CVEU actions unconstitutional due to no probable cause needed for the stops, two recent events pushed him to add the language into his bill.
“Just last Friday I was leaving the radio station and a concrete truck was pulled over by the CVEU on a road with no shoulder right there in Sullivan,” he said. “And that brings another aspect into this. These stops are impeding commerce. Concrete is a perishable commodity and if I was the guy at the other end of a project waiting for it I would be infuriated by the unnecessary delay.”
The first incident that drew the line for Schatz was seeing an 18-wheeler pulled over on the side of westbound Interstate 44 up against a guardrail near Pacific.
Schatz added he’s fine with laws being enforced and the inspections performed if another infraction has occurred, but would like to see them done in a safe place instead of on the side of the road.
“There are two weigh stations in Franklin County, they can do the inspections there, or use the ramps into the highways,” Schatz said. “They are pulling over commercial vehicles solely for random inspections simply to fill their quotas and maintain the parameters of their grant.”
Franklin County Sheriff Steve Pelton says it is always risky to pull any driver over on the side of a roadway and in most cases commercial vehicles are asked to pull over in a safer area likes ramps.
“We do that all the time for everybody,” he said. “I don’t understand why he (Schatz) is bringing this up now. By limiting the stops and enforcement to roadways with speeds under 40, stops us from patrolling the main areas where the most commercial traffic is.”
Pelton added there are no ticket quotas associated with the program, but the grant requires a certain number of “contacts” with the public either through traffic stops or educational meetings with companies with commercial vehicles.
He explained there are three different levels of safety inspections which can be done, ranging from simply checking a driver’s log books and licenses, up to full-blown equipment inspections of the vehicles and trailers.
“Quite frankly, I don’t care about the tickets,” Pelton said. “This is about protecting the driving public and making sure commercial equipment is safe.”
The sheriff’s department confirmed the stops can be made without probable cause, but only to commercial vehicles. They also confirmed the cement truck Schatz saw pulled over in Sullivan was 18,000 pounds overweight.
The county CVEU has been in operation since December of last year and all data from stops is passed on to MoDOT.
Franklin County recently was ranked the 11th most dangerous county in the state when it comes to accidents involving commercial vehicles.
Because of that distinction it qualified for a $288,835 MoDOT commercial vehicle enforcement grant that was applied for by former Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke before he left office December 2016.
In July 2017, Sheriff Pelton added $50,970 from the sheriff’s department funds to give the new program a total operating budget of $339,805.
At that time, Pelton explained about one-third of the money, $138,074, will go for two new vehicles (white Ford pickup trucks), emergency equipment and computer hardware.
Salary for two new deputies, their benefits and any overtime pay will total $164,249.
An additional $29,908 will go toward operational expenses, including uniforms, fuel, office supplies and communications.
Finally, just over $7,500 will be spent on professional development and travel expenses.
Some of the first areas to be focused on with the most commercial vehicle hazards have been Interstate 44, Highways 100, 50, 47, 185 and others throughout the county.
“I’m not sure exactly why Sheriff Toelke applied for the grant in the first place,” Schatz said. “I guess they thought they could pay for a few new officers and vehicles. There aren’t many other counties in the state that have something like this.”
Schatz added he has been assured no other CMV units will be approved in the state.
“This issue was debated on the Senate floor and didn’t have many detractors,” Schatz said. “I expect it to pass a full vote sometime this week.”