By JB Clark
TUPELO – Law enforcement from the Mississippi Department of Transportation showed the tools they use to help maintain Mississippi’s highways and keep drivers safe during a demonstration at the BancorpSouth Arena on Thursday.
Drivers often confuse MDOT Law Enforcement officers and patrol cars with Mississippi Highway Patrol troopers, but the No. 1 concern for MDOT officers is commercial vehicle safety.
“We want people to know exactly what that MDOT Law Enforcement officer they see is doing and why because we certainly think if the public is aware of what we’re doing and why then the public will be much more supportive,” said Mike Tagert, Northern District Transportation commissioner. “Our road and bridge system represents the largest public asset that we have in our state. It’s important not only for public safety, but also general movement of commerce so the rules and regulations these men and women enforce lead to safety and savings for all of us.”
Capt. David Gist demonstrated a mobile scale used to weigh commercial trucks.
“Inspecting trucks for safety and making sure they are operating at a weight that won’t damage our highways are the two highest priorities, they’re 50-50,” he said. “Everything else is a bonus.”
Commercial vehicles are essential to the economy of the state and country, but their heavy loads also put a strain on the state’s roadways and must meet higher safety standards.
Commercial vehicles are permitted to be up to 80,000 pounds and operators must pay a permit fee, which helps cover maintenance costs, if they exceed the weight.
Much of the technology used by MDOT, in addition to the stationary checkpoints throughout the state, is mobile and quick to help keep truck drivers who follow safety regulations on the roads.
Infrared cameras can check to make sure brakes are working while license plate scanners can process previous inspection information to provide officers with up-to-date information and save drivers time.
The state even works with some companies to perform more intensive checks on the front end so drivers can use a pre-pass to pass checkpoints without stopping.
While checking the large semitrailers and motor coaches, the officers come into contact with most of Mississippi’s raw and finished goods as well as some more elicit items.
So far this year, MDOT Law Enforcement officers have made five arrests and found 37 pounds of drugs in the process of weighing 5.9 million tractor-trailers and inspecting 38,000 commercial vehicles.
They have also pulled 4,000 vehicles out of service due to safety violations and collected more than $15 million in weight permit fees and overweight penalties, money that Gist said goes back into road repair.