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Short Takes

Study may stall Mexican truck entry: U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-TX, recently said it would be at least two years before Mexican big rigs could travel beyond U.S. commercial zones. An appeals court recently said DOT must further study the potential effect of Mexican trucks on U.S. air quality. DOT may conduct the enhanced survey. “If you exhaust the appellate process and it needs to be done, you have to fast-track (the study) and get it done within two years,” Gonzalez said. Gonzalez said he thought President Bush would try to speed up the study.

Arizona may nix next orange alert: When the nation’s terrorism alert goes orange again, Arizona may opt out. According to The Arizona Republic, the state’s homeland security director, Frank Navarrete, said, “It creates incredible problems: overtime, financial, functional. It’s not quite to the point where it creates havoc, but it’s quite disruptive.” If a threat is directed toward specific facilities in the state, those facilities might go on heightened alert, he said, but not the entire state. Likewise, if a threat is directed at coastal areas of the United States, inland Arizona might stay at the lower yellow status.

Eye on terror: Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said he’s worried about the credibility of the color-coded terror alert system. Ridge wants the alerts targeted for specific industries, states or cities rather than the entire country. He also said the alert system can be only as good as the intelligence reports that guide it. He said terrorists might pump up “chatter” picked up by intelligence officials in order to trick the country into tightening security. The nation has mostly remained at yellow, or elevated risk of attack. But three times since February, the level has been raised to orange, or high risk, and then lowered.

Machine eyes: Vehicle data recorders or black boxes have technical problems that can hinder crash investigations, according to a NHTSA analysis. In 2002, the agency analyzed post-crash information from 684 vehicles equipped with data recorders. In 60 percent of those cases, information about the vehicle was successfully downloaded. But 40 percent of the time, the data wasn’t available. In 6 percent of those cases, crash damage prevented investigators from reaching the recorder. Technical problems, such as bolts that required special tools for removal, prevented access in 31 percent of cases, while software problems were the culprit in 23 percent of cases.

Sky eyes: Unmanned aerial vehicles similar to ones used in the Iraqi war could patrol the U.S. border by the end of the year, according to Tom Ridge. “We are very serious in looking at UAVs for both border applications, land and sea,” Ridge told a House committee. Ridge was impressed by spy cameras aboard a drone that allowed U.S. commanders to watch the capture of Palestinian hijacking suspect Abul Abbas and oversee the rescue of Army prisoner-of-war Pfc. Jessica Lynch.

Wrong number: The feds have placed secure phone lines in all 50 governors’ offices to make sure the states’ chief executives can reach the Department of Homeland Security instantly, and vice versa. Meanwhile, John Estey, chief of staff for Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, got a scare when the emergency phone rang. Estey answered it — and the caller asked him when her prescription would be ready. The caller was trying to reach her pharmacist, and had dialed the top-secret phone number by mistake.

Wrong number again: BellSouth Yellow Pages contained a misprint in its 2004 publication serving northeastern Louisiana. Callers who dialed an 800 number expecting the Office of Motor Vehicles are instead connected to a phone sex line, The Associated Press reported. What should have been an 877 number connecting callers to the OMV in Baton Rouge was printed as an 800 number that gives callers the opportunity to “talk only to the girls who turn you on” — for $1.99 per minute. BellSouth was working with the OMV to come up with a solution to the problem.

Computers and digits: Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry signed legislation making it mandatory that all CDL holders and other drivers undergo digital fingerprinting when renewing or applying for a license. The legislation is effective July 1. The intent of SB 423 is to make it impossible for a new or reapplying driver to steal another’s license.

NHTSA says cars most often cause car/truck collisions: A June 2003 study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded in part that passenger car drivers share a greater responsibility for car/truck crashes than truckdrivers. According to the report, “An Analysis of Fatal Large Truck Crashes,” rear-end fatal collisions where passenger cars strike commercial motor vehicles are almost four times as likely as trucks rear-ending passenger cars. Moreover, head-on collisions with passenger cars in the truck’s lane occur more than 10 times as often as the truck encroaching in the passenger car’s lane. In addition, opposite direction sideswipes involving a passenger car striking the truck in the truck’s lane occur more than 12 times as often as trucks encroaching on the passenger car. The study also said just over half of all large truck fatalities occur on non-divided two-lane roads. The large truck fatal crash problem is neither on interstates, nor on major highways; it is on non-divided two-lane roads.

The study analyzed different types of fatal crashes involving passenger vehicles and large trucks (more than 10,000 pounds GVWR). It was done by the National Center for Statistics and Analysis to examine the characteristics of large fatal truck crashes. Fatal crashes involving single-unit and combination trucks were studied. Two-vehicle crashes consisting of a large truck and one other vehicle were examined for vehicle and driver-related factors.

The study used data from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) from 1996 to 2000 and from the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute’s Trucks Involved in Fatal Accidents Survey. Characteristics of large truck crashes, including rollovers and jackknifes, were analyzed.

July 4 damper averted: The federal government avoided a crisis that might have doused Fourth of July fireworks shows around the country. The Homeland Security and Transportation departments issued a notice to get fireworks moving by rail again, which had not happened since February. Rail companies and some trucking firms had embargoed transporting fireworks and other commercial explosives in response to background check requirements issued by what is now the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The companies feared the drivers would be prosecuted if they had not undergone a background check. The notice says the bureau rules do not apply to rail workers, since they already are adequately overseen by the DOT.

—by Dick Larsen, senior editor
Dick Larsen can be reached at