The Tennessee Highway Patrol is using new technology to remove unsafe large trucks - including those with failing brakes or under- or over-inflated tires - from state highways.
On Wednesday, the THP demonstrated a new mobile command and inspection center at the Jenkins Road location of U.S. Xpress trucking service. The vehicle, about the size of a small bus, contains equipment that can perform roadside truck inspections, including a scale, an infrared scanner and readers for license plates and state Department of Transportation numbers, which give prior inspection data.
"We're serious about safety on the highways," said Lt. John Harmon. "To our knowledge, we have the most state-of-the-art vehicle anywhere right now."
There were 8,893 large truck crashes in 2008, the latest year in which total crash data is available. So far in 2012, there have been 52 large truck crashes which resulted in fatalities, records show.
The highway patrol received a grant of $1.4 million from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to purchase the vehicle.
Each highway patrol district has the opportunity to use the inspection vehicle - the only one in the state - by signing up for it for at least a week at a time. THP District 2, which covers Chattanooga, will use the mobile center this week to inspect trucks traveling in McMinn County.
"We've had an operation near the city of Charleston, Tenn., for the past few days," said Capt. David McGill, head of District 2. "Within two days, they had 23 out-of-service trucks - trucks that they put out of service for poor inspections."
Troopers were able to weigh 81 trucks Tuesday using the mobile scale, Harmon said. They also used infrared scanners to inspect trucks' brakes and ran trucks' Department of transportation numbers. The inspection ratings for U.S. Xpress and Covenant Transport -- another trucking company at Wednesday's event -- were in the 50s (out of 100) which was good, according to state Trooper Stan Carden.
"I always say it's like a golf score," Carden said. "The higher up it is, the worse off you are."
The vehicle also contains emergency management equipment, including a weather station and a mobile dispatch and communication center.
Bob Viso, vice president of safety at U.S. Xpress, said the company has improved safety in its trucks as technology has improved, adding blind-spot cameras and a front-end detection system that can tell when a vehicle is getting too close to a truck and apply the brakes if the driver does not react.
"I'm glad that we were able to participate in this," Viso said. "I'm very impressed with this system. It's refreshing to see highway patrol using this kind of technology to promote safety."