Gotcha! New equipment nails unsafe rigs

By EMILY LECOZ / NEMS Daily Journal

FULTON – Dangerous truckers should think twice before rolling through Mississippi.
The state unveiled new technology Monday that allows it to virtually inspect big rigs as they cruise down the highway and, if they’re found unsafe, flag them for a full evaluation.
Truckers found by the system to have violated safety standards can be fined or have their rigs put out of commission.
Hundreds of thousands of trucks use Mississippi highways annually, and increasingly more are running overweight, out of service or unregistered, according to the Mississippi Department of Transportation. The Smart Roadside Program, implemented with a $3.5 million federal grant, helps detect problem trucks more efficiently.
Although it’s only a pilot project today, the program could expand throughout the state if it performs well, said Willie Huff, chief of MDOT enforcement division.
The technology allows officers to weigh trucks’ payloads, check their brakes and run their tags through local and national databases to verify vehicle safety and driver history – all without the truck ever coming to a stop.
Mississippi is the first state to fully implement all aspects of the system, according to MDOT, which held a press conference on the technology Monday in Fulton.
“We’re trying to streamline the process of determining which trucks to stop and inspect,” said MDOT Sgt. Jason Rickman. “Right now we do it at random. But this allows us to flag the trucks that actually might have problems rather than stopping the ones that are OK.”
Rickman manned the mobile operations unit inside a fully equipped van outside the U.S. 78 weigh station near Fulton. Several computer monitors displayed information captured by infrared cameras and mobile video feeds mounted outside.
Trucks flagged by Rickman or the computer are reported to officers at the nearby weigh station, who then stop the truckers for an inspection rather than letting them roll through.
Without the equipment, truckers are stopped randomly for inspections, which sometimes last nearly an hour. MDOT inspected more than 63,000 commercial vehicles this year. It hopes the technology will reduce that number by 20-30 percent.
“The truckers lose about $1 a minute when they’re stopped,” Huff said. “So this is good for them, too.”
In addition to the mobile van, which will travel around the state, MDOT also has a permanent inspection site at the Orange Grove weigh station in Jackson County. And it has two virtual weigh stations in Warren and DeSoto counties.
“It sounds good,” said Aba Ritter, a trucker for Fort Worth, Texas-based Felix Transport who was stopped for a random 20-minute inspection Monday.
“I have to stop at about five weigh stations a day,” he said. “It’s good if you can keep rolling.”
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.