The Investigators: Bad brakes

By Lori Brown - bio | email

WEST MEMPHIS, AR (WMC-TV) - Crashes with tractor-trailer trucks kill 100 people each year in Arkansas alone.  With West Memphis, Arkansas being known as the trucking capitol of the nation, Arkansas has made a more than half million dollar investment in infared flair cameras.

West Memphis is called the trucking capitol of the nation because of the two major interstates, I-55 and I-40, that intersect here.

"We're probably the number one or number two high volume location in the country," said Sgt. Sammy Brown of the Arkansas Highway Police.

Brown uses a flair camera.  It can see what his eyes cannot:  bad brakes.

The camera, which works like an infared camera, picks up the heat good brakes emit.  Bad brakes do not emit heat and stay dark.

"This is critical in the commercial vehicle industry," Brown said, "so these vehicles that are hauling 80,000 pounds up and down the highway will be able to stop."

Officers positioned down the highway will pull over the trucks matching the description from Sgt. Brown.

Truck driver Gabriel Shears was thankful cops were looking out for his life and the lives of those around him.

"It takes a long time to stop," Shears said.

Truck drivers need about the length of a football field to start applying their brakes just in order to stop on time.  A truck pulled over by Patrol Officer First Class Clyde Murphy would need even longer.

"Not maintaining air pressure could be a serious hazard," Murphy said.

A brake was also out of adjustment.  Murphy put the big rig out of service.

"He can't leave," Murphy said.  "He is here on the property, once those items are fixed, we will check to make sure they are fixed and he'll be able to go back into service and leave."

However, spotting bad brakes with the flair setup is not cheap.

"This particular setup here I think cost around $6 to $700,000," Brown said.

The $600,000 bought two vans to be used throughout Arkansas.

"During the summer time or spring time, we will probably come out four or five times during that time," Brown said.

The money for these command centers came from the federal taxpayers through a grant.

Arkansas Highway Police said the costly equipment is working.  They said from March of 2009 to March of 2010, Arkansas Highway Patrol inspected 836 trucks and found 898 brake violations.  A single truck can have more than one brake problem.

In 2002, before Arkansas got the cameras, there were 78 large trucks involved in deadly crashes in Arkansas.  In 2009, there were 77 deadly crashes.

Before Arkansas got the cameras, they did traditional "blind" sting operations, where they would pull over a number of large trucks at a time.  Arkansas Highway Police said the old process was time consuming and created long lines.

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