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DMV Drives Dangerous Trucks Off NC Roads

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RALEIGH — The North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles says statistics prove there are lots of dangerous trucks on the road. On one rainy day, a DMV enforcement officer found one before he finished a single lap around the beltline.

Officer Doug Dunnagan says the truck's brakes went bad, so bad they heated up and melted the rear tires, causing a blow-out. The truck was pulled over near an exit ramp, a dangerous location to stop.

Dunnagan issued a warning ticket, and told driver James Jones to make sure the trailer was in top-notch shape before being moved. The driver did not end up in court, but he did find himself on the wrong side of a lecture.

Jones says the officer was preaching to the converted, and that it is a small percentage of drivers who give all of them a bad name.

"It might be a mixed bag. I believe most of them want to have safe trucks out there. I guess I would say maybe one out of 10 or 15 might take a chance on something," Jones says.

DMVofficers patrol the roads every day, but the greatest number of dangerous trucks come right to them at North Carolina's 13 weigh stations.

The Hillsborough weigh station on I-85\I-40 is the state's most modern. Most trucks are weighed and waved on electronically. But many are diverted to a side parking lot, where the drivers meet Inspector Debb Clapp.

Clapp checks everything. Everywhere there is something to check, she checks it.

This trucker may be cooling it in Hillsborough for awhile. Clapp found "several violations so far, several bad ones, such as the tires and lights of course."

A violation notice is slapped on the truck, and just in time. The inspection may have saved lives.

"Here's the bracket that holds the brake chamber on. The bracket is completely broken in two, so that's making this brake completely inoperable," Clapp says. "It's very hazardous."

The truck had lost most of its ability to stop, and driver Lance Davis says he had no idea.

"Did you know that you had violations?" Davis is asked. "No sir...surprise to me...We're supposed to check them every morning but you get in a hurry sometimes and overlook something."

One and a half million trucks passed through the Hillsborough weigh station last year, a facility staffed by 20 people. With numbers like that, DMV officers admit, they are unlikely to catch everybody.

"There's only so many officers in the state and there's only so many trucks we can get," says DMV Capt. Mike Sizemore. "There are so many more trucks using the highways...There's no way we can get them all."

Lawmakers want to help. A bill approved by the House would levee fines against drivers with safety violations. The bill would also double the fines for moving violations by truck drivers.

Nationwide, efforts to reduce truck accidents have apparently paid off. Large truck travel more than doubled from 1975 to 1995, but the number of truck-related fatalities remained basically the same.

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Mark Roberts, Reporter
Jim Young, Photographer
Julie Moos, Web Editor

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