Motor Vehicle • Commercial Vehicle Service Alliance Procedure • Out-of-Service Criteria

Commwealth v. SMP, Inc., PICS Case No. 14-0455 (Pa. Super. March 18, 2014) Lazarus, J. (7 pages).

In a matter arising from a commercial tractor-trailer wreck, SMP appealed its conviction for violating the Vehicle Code by operating a commercial vehicle with a hazardous braking system. Reversed.

A commercial tractor-trailer owned by SMP crashed, killing the driver. State troopers responded to the accident and investigated the scene and the cause of the accident. During the investigation, a trooper discovered that the brake on the right hand side of the first axle was beyond the readjustment limits provided in the Commercial Vehicle Service Alliance Procedure out-of-service criteria. A brake outside the readjustment limits is considered defective under Pennsylvania law.

Further investigation showed that neither of the brakes on the fifth axle moved and these brakes were deemed nonfunctional and defective based on the out-of-service criteria. Based on the determination that three of the 10 brakes on the vehicle were defective, the trooper issued a citation for violating §4107(b)(2,1) of the Vehicle Code. SMP pleaded not guilty and after a hearing, was found guilty and ordered to pay a fine.

SMP appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence and arguing that the trooper’s failure to inspect the tractor-trailer in accordance with federal standards prohibited a conviction based on the inspection pursuant to Commonwealth v. Richards. The trooper had testified that because the tractor’s air supply to the brake line was damaged in the crash, he had used an air supply from the tow truck to test the brake lines and had used vice clamps to clamp off leaks in the brake lines. While the trooper testified this deviation was inconsequential to the results of the inspection, there is no evidence in the record that this was an irrelevant deviation from the North American Standard Inspection Procedure. SMP’s expert testified that the trooper’s methods were improper. Although the trooper’s modified inspection may have produced valid results, the record lacks any evidence, aside for the troopers own testimony, to support that.

Like Richards, it is not the deviation from the usual methodology that is the problem, it is the lack of evidence that the deviation did not affect the inspection results.