INDIANAPOLIS - Thousands of trucks rolling down Indiana's busiest roads are in poor condition, making them dangerous to other motorists, the Call 6 Investigators have uncovered.
Federal records indicate that in 2012, Indiana State Police found more than 6,000 trucks with mechanical issues so dangerous that officers immediately pulled them off the road.
Inspection reports obtained by Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney showed that in central Indiana, ISP found issues such as unsafe tires, defective turn signals, brake issues and unsecured loads.
Read Nov. 2012 Inspection Reports:
"There are a lot of vehicles that shouldn’t be out here," said Indiana State Police Master Trooper Kelly Lazzell. "They cause crashes. They can break windshields out. Some vehicles drive down the road with flat tires to try to get to the next exit."
State police said that because of staffing constraints, they don't catch everything, meaning potentially dangerous trucks remain on the road.
About 72 troopers and inspectors are dedicated to daily truck mechanical inspections statewide.
According to the Indiana Motor Truck Association, one million trucks pass through Indiana every day, equivalent to one inspecting officer per 13,000 trucks.
"It’s just like going fishing," Lazzell said. "You can't catch everything."
The Call 6 Investigators were at a Richmond weigh station as inspectors pulled a tractor-trailer off Interstate 70 that had serious steering problems.
"It could have killed somebody," said Master Motor Carrier Inspector Mindy Shelton. "He could lose his steering and possibly have an accident."
Shelton found the truck, owned by Willie J. Wells, of Connersville, also had a brake that was not working.
"The brake's not even making contact with the drum," said Shelton, pointing out the problem.
A 2009 University of Michigan study found brake and steering defects were associated significantly with increased crash risk.
Brian Day, truck driver for Willie J. Wells, said he checked out the truck before heading out and did not find any problems.
"I didn't notice anything going down the road," said Day. "We’ll get these repairs made."
Lazzell and other troopers spend time evaluating a slew of issues that aren't mechanical.
On Dec. 19, 2012, the Call 6 Investigators were with Lazzell as he pulled over a truck from Beyond Logistics, of Darien, Ill., because the driver ran a red light.
Lazzell found an unsecured load in the truck, and the driver had not logged his miles. Lazzell immediately pulled the truck off the road.
The truck driver declined comment to RTV6, and a Beyond Logistics manager said the driver was suspended for a week.
Woman, Attorney Press Need For More Inspections
Robin VanDyke and her attorney, Kenneth Allen, are pushing Indiana to focus more resources on mechanical inspections. VanDyke's husband, Dan, was killed in Feb. 2011 when a tractor-trailer slammed into the back of his car on Interstate 94 after he had slowed for a car that had spun out on the slippery highway.
"There's not enough inspectors qualified to make sure these trucks are safe, and that needs to happen," Robin VanDyke said. "My entire life was ripped away. He was a great guy. We had a wonderful relationship."
She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Celadon, the trucking company, and its driver. What caused the crash is part of the legal battle.
An engineering consultant hired by Celadon testified that he inspected the brakes nine months after the crash and found them out of adjustment.
"I guess I wouldn't use the word 'defective' from a product liability standpoint, but we found some that were out of adjustment," read the testimony.
"The bottom line is the equipment was unsafe," said Allen. "The truck shouldn't have been on the road."
Allen criticized the number of inspectors statewide devoted to mechanical truck inspections.
Records obtained by the Call 6 Investigators showed that in November 2012, ISP performed four mechanical truck inspections in Morgan County, two in Hendricks County and none in Shelby County.
"If you have an unsafe truck, you might as well drive through Indiana," Allen said. "Because the chances are, you're not going to be pulled over. That's a sad reality."
Gary Langston, president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association, disagrees, saying more inspectors are not the answer.
"There isn't any science that more inspections improves safety numbers," Langston said, pointing to a federal study that showed that 10 percent of crashes are caused by mechanical defects.
"A company really can't not afford to focus on safety," said Langston.
The truck that hit Dan VanDyke had only been on the road 18 months, one likely reason ISP had never inspected it.
Robin VanDyke wonders if an inspection would have saved her husband's life and hopes his story will help save others.
"Safety needs to be enforced so accidents don't happen to other families," she said.
In December 2012, a jury awarded VanDyke $7.5 million, money she hopes to use for a scholarship in her husband's honor.
Celadon plans to appeal, attorney Michael Moon said. Moon and Celadon declined an on-camera interview for this story, but they released this statement:
"Celadon generally operates equipment newer than many of its competitors in the trucking industry and Celadon inspects the trucks and trailers in its fleet more frequently than is required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The truck and trailer at issue in this lawsuit were regularly inspected prior to the accident in accordance with these regulations and the truck involved in this accident had been purchased new and had been in service less than 18 months at the time this accident occurred. Also, after the accident both the truck and trailer were given a thorough inspection by the Indiana State Police. There were no mechanical issues with the truck or trailer that had any impact on the accident. In particular, Indiana State Police Master Trooper Eggers did a thorough inspection of the brakes of both the truck and the trailer following the accident and they were found to be in proper working order, including the anti-lock brakes. When the truck and trailer were inspected by other experts for purposes of this litigation, these inspections occurred 9-10 months after the accident and after the truck and the trailer had been stored outside, subject to Indiana weather conditions, for that time period."
Indiana State Police told RTV6 they are not mechanics who can take trucks apart, but rather, they inspect trucks to make sure they are following state and federal laws.