More than half of the trash trucks stopped Tuesday at a joint law enforcement safety checkpoint on Route 301 were ordered off the roadway after inspectors found safety violations including faulty and defective brakes, flat tires and drivers with suspended licenses, the Charles County sheriff's office said.
The joint operation conducted by the sheriff's office, the Maryland Transportation Authority police and the Maryland State Police targeted trash haulers heading south on Route 301 toward landfills in Virginia. Of the 51 trucks stopped Tuesday, 30 were ordered out of service. Three of the trash truck drivers were also ordered off the roads after inspectors found they had been driving with suspended or restricted licenses.
Officers issued a total of 26 citations, primarily for drivers with faulty brakes. In addition, inspectors found 95 violations of Department of Transportation and state safety regulations.
Sheriff's Capt. Joseph Montminy said that the sheriff's office initiated the surprise inspection checkpoint after hearing numerous complaints from citizens about trash trucks on Route 301.
"We've had complaints from our citizens and our own deputies about these trash trucks," Montminy said. "They're saying, 'Why are all these trucks in our county? They don't look safe.' "
At the checkpoint Tuesday in Newburg, at an old gas station-truck stop just north of the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge, several trash truck drivers cooled their heels beside their rigs, waiting for roadside service mechanics to arrive and fix problems so the drivers could get back on the road.
Montminy said that he found the number of brake violations discovered on the trucks "incredible." In all, inspectors found three unsecured brake lines, 13 sets of brakes that were out of adjustment, three trailers with inoperable brakes, two trailers with brake linings contaminated with grease and oil, five defective brake systems and 10 brake systems with air leaks.
Maryland State Police 1st Sgt. Joseph P. Ireton, who was also at the checkpoint, echoed that concern over the number of brake citations.
"I'm amazed so much of it is brake-related," Ireton said. "Going through Waldorf and La Plata, drivers have to use their brakes. If the maintenance of brakes is poor, they're not going to be able to stop at red lights."
One frequently seen problem--more minor, perhaps, but still of concern to inspectors--was that of loose tailgates, Ireton said. If the tailgates accidentally opened, Ireton said, debris could fill the roadway.
Nine of the 51 trucks stopped Tuesday were trash trucks from the Baltimore office of Specialty Transportation Services Inc., an Indiana-based waste disposal company. Three STS trucks were placed out of service, and one driver was cited for failing to wear his required glasses while driving.
Eric Sizemore, the terminal manager for STS, said that most of the mechanical problems in the STS trucks were "minor" and fixed on site. The trucks were also examined later for other defects by the company's shop foreman, Sizemore said.
Law enforcement officials and transportation inspectors said that the trash haulers use Route 301 to avoid maintenance checkpoints at weigh stations along Interstate 95. An average of 80 out-of-state trash trucks cross the Nice bridge each day, according to Charles County officials.
Driver Nathan Cooksey, who works for Page Trucking in Prince Frederick, said Tuesday he thought that Maryland drivers were being unfairly targeted. He said the real culprits were trash haulers from New York and New Jersey, who he said barrel down Route 301 over the regulated weight and and overburdened with trash.
"It's pretty clear it's trash trucks they're after," Cooksey said, gesturing to the waiting out-of-service rigs.
Montminy said that the surprise inspections would continue as long as it takes to get the trash trucks to comply with federal Department of Transportation standards.
CAPTION: Thirty of the 51 trucks stopped were ordered off the road for mechanical violations. Drivers, above, await repair of stranded rigs.
CAPTION: Maryland State Police Trooper Scott Kowalewski takes notes on a truck stopped Tuesday while its driver, John Miller, watches through his mirrors.