State Fighting Shortage Of Highway Troopers
Posted July 30, 2005 10:06 a.m. EDT
JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. — Johnston County Highway Patrol Trooper Jason Hare just received a broken down motorist call. With just five troopers working the entire county, it will take him more than 20 minutes to get there.
Seven years ago the average response time statewide was 15 minutes. Now, the response time is more like 25 minutes before a trooper arrives to help.
According to the North Carolina Highway Patrol, the number of vehicles on North Carolina roads increased 82 percent over a 30-year period. There are also 106 percent more licensed drivers and the number of miles driven is up 141 percent.
Yet, over the same period of time, trooper positions only increased by 26 percent.
The Highway Patrol says to shorten response time, they need more troopers.
The governor's budget proposes 50 new positions. The House's version of the budget only allots for about 25 new positions while the Senate's version contains funding for just four new positions.
But state Sen. Tony Rand points to competing demands, such as the need for new roads.
"Of course it's a problem," Rand said. "We are not a rich state, so we are trying to do the best we can with available resources."
Rand says the Senate does propose spending $6 million to cross-train motor carrier enforcement officers to become troopers. He thinks that will help with the number of state troopers on the roads.
The Highway Patrol disagrees because even though the motor carrier enforcement officers would be trained as troopers, they will still be assigned to motor carrier enforcement.
With fewer available troopers, the Highway Patrol says it cannot do as many crackdowns on drunk drivers and speeders; and that concerns them.
"When people see the troopers aren't out there because they're so busy doing other things, we are going to see speeds increase," said Lt. Everett Clendenin, of the North Carolina Highway Patrol.
Officials said reduced trooper levels have contributed to a 174 percent increase in the number of speeders cited since 1999 for driving more than 100 mph, while the number of overall speeding citations is up 147 percent.
"Drivers running 20 to 30 miles above the speed limit can't get stopped fast enough," said North Carolina Trooper Randy Roberts. "We see that quite a bit -- a lot of rear-enders because people behind are running too fast."
As for that broken down motorist call, 20 minutes was apparently too long of a wait for the driver. By the time that Hare arrived to the scene, the motorist was gone.