Alabama is suffering a shortage of troopers, and increased
enforcement could help make the state’s roads safer for everyone, a group of
state officials recently concluded.
The officials met recently to discuss truck safety after a
series of accidents involving tractor-trailers. One of the wrecks, involving a
tanker truck, closed a portion of the “Malfunction Junction” interstate
crossing in Birmingham for more than a month.
No formal proposals or
recommendations were produced by the meeting, Tony Harris, a spokesman for the
Alabama Department of Transportation, said. However, a number of ideas did come
out of it, and the meeting allowed Highway Patrol officers to communicate to
state officials about their concerns as well.
Among the ideas discussed were:
more troopers on the road;
inspections of large trucks;
speed-enforcement measures; and
signage to alert drivers to problem areas.
Speeding was an area of particular
concern because it was a factor in several of the accidents that led to the
meeting. Harris said it was one area the group felt could benefit from
increased enforcement. However, the officials at the meeting did not limit
their ideas to more speeding tickets.
“They were looking at every aspect
of traffic safety,” Harris said.
The group discussed figures from
the state’s Department of Public Safety, which oversees the Highway Patrol,
that show – based on the number of patrol officers per capita – “Alabama’s
total number of state troopers lags behind what some sister states are putting
on the roads,” Harris said.
And while more troopers on the road could lead to better
speed enforcement, it also could help in other
areas, Harris said.
“Troopers in Alabama conduct most
of our truck inspections,” he said. “(With) a higher number of troopers on the
road in Alabama they could not only concentrate on speed enforcement, but they
could do more inspections.”
Those could include more checks at
weigh stations and along the roadside. The state performs more mobile than
Harris said one particular area of
concern was trucks traveling through the Birmingham area that carry large steel
coils. In the past 15 years, “dozens” of accidents involving those trucks have
occurred, Harris said, with many of the steel coils breaking loose and damaging
the road surface.
“They feel like if they had more
enforcement, companies that transport that would be more diligent in their
efforts to secure those loads,” he said.
However, those attending the
meeting did not consider at this point the idea of tracking individual carriers
and targeting enforcement on those with the worst safety records.
Another idea discussed included
increasing the number of places that truckers can go to get their trucks
inspected, as well as increasing the number of “truck inspection days” each
“That puts more locations around
the state where truck owners and operators can go and have their trucks
inspected,” he said.
Although the meeting was spurred
by accidents on interstate highways, the officials involved also looked at
safety measures that could be taken on smaller roads, such as using cameras to
enforce speed limits and to increase safety at intersections. Some of those
measures would require an act of the legislature.
Harris said the meeting has
already had one major benefit – creating more dialog between state troopers and
DOT officials about what is causing accidents across the state, and what
actions the troopers think would help reduce accidents.
Troopers suggested a number of “little things that we can do with traffic control … things that can make a
difference.” For example, troopers suggested putting up more signs marking
areas where the road is typically wet and slippery or adding more speed limit
signs in some areas.
Also, the troopers suggested
adding devices to some interstate ramps that use radar to measure vehicles’ speeds, and activate flashing lights when those vehicles are moving above a
safe speed. The devices are already installed at the intersection of I-85 and
I-65, and are planned for some ramps at Malfunction Junction.
“We contend that interchange
functions properly if you go through it at the right speed,” Harris said.
One measure that the group did not
considered was splitting the state’s speed limits.
“There was no discussion of it at
all,” Harris said. “I don’t think our DOT is in favor of that.”
State officials are
planning to conduct another meeting on truck safety in January, Harris said,
although no firm date has yet been set.
– By Mark H. Reddig,