Officials Blame Lack Of Funding, Manpower For Fewer Big Rig Safety Inspections
Posted May 6, 2005 11:11 a.m. EDT
RALEIGH, N.C. — A possible fix to hire more inspectors for tractor-trailers has hit a roadblock in the North Carolina Senate.
The senate's budget plan passed Thursday without funding the $5 million that Crime Control and Public Safety officials said it needs to fill the 59 motor carrier enforcement officer vacancies.
A WRAL investigation recently uncovered that inspections ensuring big rigs are safe enough to be on the road are happening much less in North Carolina.
Officials have said the main reason is the lack of manpower.
North Carolina Department of Transportation Sec. Lyndo Tippett is pressuring Crime Control and Public Safety to hire more enforcement officers.
"It's a serious problem because we need to be sure the roads are safe." Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Oxford, said. "When inspections drop off like this, things begin to slip."
Safety on the roads is not the only concern
"If you have an overweight vehicle, it particularly damages the older bridges and increases our maintenance costs," Tippett said.
Despite the need, Crime Control has not filled even one of its 59 vacancies since 2003.
Crime Control Sec. Bryan Beatty said it is a salary issue. Despite similar training, troopers make more than MCE officers, so more recruits are attracted to the highway patrol.
Beatty said he noticed the problem about six months after he got control of the enforcement division, and then took several steps to resolve the problem.
"I agree it is not good to have positions vacant, but I will say everything that could have been done was done to fill the positions," Beatty said.
The governor's budget includes $5 million over two years to bring the MCE salaries up to that of a trooper. But in the Senate budget passed Thursday, the 59 positions were frozen.
Crawford is hopeful the vacant positions will be funded in the North Carolina House's budget.
"My concern would be that it would affect public safety," Beatty said.
Even with the vacant positions and fewer inspections, the number of deaths involving tractor-trailer crashes has not increased.
Still, Crawford said the numbers are not acceptable.
Tractor-trailers have higher fatal crash rates per mile than passenger vehicles. Inspections help make sure 18-wheelers are safe.
The number of weight inspections in North Carolina has dropped from 7.8 million in 2001 to 3.8 million in 2004.