- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

DALLAS — Texas is cracking down on trucks that do not measure up to safety standards.
More than 80 percent of the materials entering the nation from the south are hauled through Texas, chiefly on Interstate 45 from Laredo up through San Antonio, Austin, Forth Worth, Dallas and beyond. And there are concerns about future safety problems if the North American Free Trade Agreement opens up U.S. highways to Mexican tractor-trailers.
Until now, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) has been responsible for checking errant 18-wheelers, and though the agency has attacked the job with good intentions, some claim the majority of offenders escape punishment.
A state law that takes effect Sept. 1 says that any county with a population of 2 million or more can set up its own inspection stations and that any city of 25,000 within that county can do the same.
Several cities and counties are gearing up, buying inspection equipment and training officers.
One of the most active is Dallas County, which plans to open two stations along I-45.
"I think it's certainly going to improve safety," Capt. Gary Lindsey, head of the sheriff's department traffic section, said last week. He said that when drivers realize they face many more checkpoints, "I think we'll see more compliance."
As truck traffic doubles and triples in major Texas cities, more and more 18-wheelers are involved in traffic mishaps. That, said Republican state Sen. Florence Shapiro, prompted her to sponsor Bill 220, which set up the new regulations.
"This will give us the tools to operate safer trucks on the road and give cars on the road a little assurance that these trucks are safe," she said.
Bill Montgomery, a 55-year-old trucker from Auburn, Ala., fueling at a station in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite yesterday, said he was not concerned about the increased inspection.
"My rig is as safe as it can be," he said. "After all, it's my life involved here too."
Chester Nelms, 61, driving a rig that belched more fumes than probably allowed by law, called the Texas inspection system "a joke."
"I've been drivin' through here for years, most often clear across Texas to Los Angeles, and I haven't been stopped three times," he said with a smile. "Inspection? What inspection?"
For the record, in 1999 — the latest figures available — the DPS conducted about 140,000 inspections, removed 11,250 driver-violators and placed 32,000 trucks out of service for repairs.
But until the new law, local law enforcement could not intervene to deal with even the most obvious violations. One truck's brakes recently caught fire and deputies could not stop the driver from continuing his trip.
Officials say it will be months before many more stations are set up. Inspectors must be trained by the DPS and equipment bought and installed.
Dallas County Sheriff Jim Bowles said that while he "sympathized" with trucking firms that were dealing with rising fuel and operating costs, law enforcement cannot look the other way when violations occur.
"We don't consider public safety a compromise," said Sheriff Bowles. "Our objective is to induce voluntary compliance."

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