«Not humans but robots» – truck drivers honk horn at perceived police persecution

Police raid right in front of Imavere sawmill on March 3rd 2015.

PHOTO: Picture by reader

As one, truckers of Estonia have opted to open their mouths and speak their mind about the punitive police raids seemingly bordering on bullying and increasing in volume. Instead of improving anything, they say it's applying brakes on business.    

It’s like pan-Estonian catch-the-trucker game by now with which none are satisfied – neither the carriers, the drivers nor indeed the very police. None would deny that infringements related to trucks do abound. The problem, however, is partly the inconsistent and at times ill-willed interpretation of the requirements, and partly in the forced situation where carriers have placed their drivers amid intense competition.

Its early noon, on March 3rd. Out in the heart of Estonia, the Imavere Sawmill is the largest of its kind. For decades, logs have been transported there from all over the land. This day, the business halts for hours. Why? Because the police hath printed out the latest map of the roads to discover that a 300 metre section – the only path from intersection to the mill – the special licences for traffic by vehicles over 44 tonnes all of a sudden do not apply.

Instead of notifying those concerned and asking them to align operations to rules, the police decide to drive their bus to Imavere all the way from Tartu, park it right in front of the sawmill,  and there proceed to weigh the vehicles one by one to then impose fines.

«The first one who was stopped was taken to the road from in front of the Imavere store, and then they stopped three on the road after that. It was 11:09 am when I got pulled over. For starters it was documents check and then they said the current special licences do not apply and they got busy weighing,» recalls a truck drivin’ man named Aivar.

Weirdest in Aivar’s eyes was what turned out a while later. As the trucks were lining up near the saw mill, some got smart and contacted the parish to get a special licence for the section of the road. The parish promptly issued the licence but for the police that was not enough. This needs to be approved by Road Administration, they said and kept on fining the guys.

You just read the latest version of demonstrations of state power which has birthed some country-wide movements like a native trucker commune sharing real-time data on where the «friends» are lurking.

The drivers are telling stories on the police sending them to repeat technical inspections for a crack in a light, a superfluous light, water on the floor or a missing roll of dressing. They complain about unjustly large fines written for one log too many transported, or some extra centimetre in the height or length of the burden. There have also been large fines in harbours where a driver may have gotten behind the wheel ten minutes before his mandatory rest time was over, to drive unto the ferry soon to set sail.  

Police denies ill will

Police makes no secret about log carriers undergoing toughened checks and that they did go to Imavere with the clear goal of catching the infringers where the likelihood was best.

«The rules have continually been toughened and supervisory measures added as the carriers do not want to keep the rules always and are playing a lot in the grey zone themselves also,» claims leading law enforcer Kalmer Tikerpe.

During the beginning-of-March raids in question, a whopping 61 drivers were penalised. Of these, 26 were sent straight to extraordinary technical inspection with their vehicle; weight infringements were 13 and work/rest law violations 25. Quite a «catch» for a couple of days. Last year, drivers penalised at like operations amounted to the height of 493.

«Half the vehicles did not meet the technical requirements or the driver was infringing some rule. Such a result may not be accepted,» says Mr Tikerpe.

The police officer feel quite confident that the policemen checking trucks never fine them or send them to extraordinary inspection fur things described by some drivers. «This is not reasonable and the police does not pick on people like that. If some policeman behaves rudely and unbecomingly, then I hope a driver who has experienced such behaviour will let the superior of the policemen know,» he adds.

At that, both police and carriers admit that law regulating transport in Estonia is subject to varying interpretations, and actually the police itself reviewed punishments pursuant to weight restrictions on February 22nd.   

Who’s responsible, then?

In this situation, the drivers feel like innocent victims caught in the middle – as they profit nothing from overly weighty loads or missing licences. As things stand, the large-scale fining actions bite into their personal purses, while the tug of war ought to be between police vs transport and timber companies.

«I’ve been a trucker for nearly 20 years, all the while drivin’ in Estonia. What the police is doing against right now does cross all limits,» says Peeter, a log transporter. «But the image the police has created regarding truck drivers as the worst of crooks, baddies, murderers is an outright lie. In these raids they have had en masse for nearly a year now, they write down every slightest error and then it’s good to say that things are bad.»

Peeter says the competition is intense indeed, on the market, and supply exceeds demand. «Therefore, lots of enterprises intentionally violate the rest/work time rules, the tonnage limits and requirements set on the trucks,» says the veteran driver. Meanwhile, a driver has no options – if he’s unwilling to break the rules, the firm pick the next driver.

«They used to say that for drivers police is one who explains, a partner. I’d say these are no humans but robots whose desire or command is to make money for the state,» is what the trucker thinks of the police. He thinks Estonia might learn from Sweden and apply the greater scrutiny to transport companies.

Viljar, also a driver to haul logs, would like to vent about the burden laid on drivers by law and companies.   

«The sawmills are often on parish roads and to take the load there one must run around like an idiot – first to get out of the wood, then state roads, and then into a local government again. Sounds like reason? But what if we all up and refuse to carry timber and the rest? All the drivers are being milked to the max, every minute and every kilogram and every crack in a light is immediately a heavy infringement,» he pours it fourth.

Meanwhile, one cannot but agree with what the police says about tired drivers, not-totally-technically-okay trucks and unfastened loads do lead to severe accidents. And that the rules and checks exist so the drivers and entrepreneurs would avoid needless risks. Even so, the current raids wave does not seem to provide any solutions to current situation.

The police assure us they have actually already begun to scrutinise the enterprises that make their drivers break the law and care nothing about condition of vehicles. As an example of that, entrepreneurs are obliged to store record sheet data and, according to these, Labour Inspectorate inspects adherence to work/rest time requirements, and punishes if needed.

As police and Road Administration are on the roads inspecting the vehicles, Labour Inspectorate inspectors are visiting the companies and checking that part of the transport equation. On top of that, there exists a vehicle transport committee with representatives of Union of Estonian Automobile Enterprises also included – the last time the committee took lots of decisions regarding punishing the enterprises was this February.

In the fourth quarter of 2015 and January 2016, administrative proceedings were launched regarding 25 carriers who have severely or repeatedly infringed with truck transport on roads of Estonia or internationally.



Villem Tori, Union of Estonian Automobile Enterprises

Recently, there has been quite a lot of criticism from round log carriers regarding supervision, pointing towards something being badly wrong. One gets the impression that the supervision is geared towards punishment at any cost and as severely as possible.

Transportation is a sector most regulated, and the checks are mostly carried out on the highways. Regrettably, lots of regulations regarding transportation are so vague that not only carriers but even various agencies read them differently.

From March 2015, laden vehicle restrictions regarding round log transportation were made more lenient. Police and Border Guard Board has come up with their own interpretation for the regulation for weighing road train with exceptional load – differing from the actual spirit of the regulation. They never bothered to ask the economy ministry opinion, who authored the law, but got merrily busy punishing the carriers. In hindsight, it has been found out that lots of carriers were punished wrongly during the supervision. Naturally, the carriers are justified being upset, because to annul misdemeanour reports one must have recourse to court.

State Forest Management Centre has done a big job to have the carried loads correspond to allowable weight in cubic metres. Road trains come with weighing instruments in axles or hoist arrow. Carriage comes with electronic accompanying documents. Volumes of wood above allowed limits are not paid for as carriage charge. 

When weighing the vehicles on highways with electronic weighing instruments, Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) goes by measuring precision of 3 percent, in the EU the error margin begins at 5 percent. PPA has even gone as far as to punish people for having 3 or 4 extra logs loaded.

Naturally, the frequent and unsubstantiated raids paralyse operations of businesses. Vehicles waiting in line to be inspected or being inspected during several hours equal financial loss.

When during the process of infringements according to PPA is ever increasing, this again serves to show that the current punishment practice has failed to change the situation. The constant intimidation of carriers and drivers by mass raids aimed to punish has not prevented problems in transportation, has it? Why, then?

The checks executed on the private road leading up to Imavere sawmill last week was a power demonstration totally unsubstantiated and unnecessary.