Intoxicated truck drivers may be problem on Mid-South highways

Memphis and the Mid-South are America's Distribution Center. That means our region has hundreds of thousands of 18-wheelers rolling through every week. Are all of those truckers sober?

As we found out on Crime Tracker tonight, it depends on who you ask. The Arkansas Highway Police keep a close watch on all those trucks rolling by along with the professionals behind the wheel.

"80,000 pounds moving down the highway under the influence of drugs or alcohol is extremely dangerous and they don't want to be on the road with them, either," said Lt. James Speer of the Arkansas Highway Patrol.

Truck Driver Jeff Miller says he spotted an intoxicated driver recently in Missouri. "I got the license off his truck and I called the state patrol in St. Louis. They caught him," said Miller. "Any truck driver in possession or under the influence of drugs or alcohol is one too many. But considering the number of trucks we have through here on a daily basis, it's not a horrific problem," Miller continued, "Here, just on the other side of the new bridge, some 15 to 17 thousand trucks pass by everyday."

And that's just on westbound I-40. Officers do random inspections on trucks all day. A West Memphis Judge who handles interstate traffic cases says truckers under the influence often leave their drugs in plain sight during mandatory stops at weigh stations.

"You think about it. Why would you let that happen unless you're completely wired out on it and can't think? Why would you run that risk? And that happens everyday, everyday. It's not just West Memphis. It's everywhere," said Judge William Rainey.

The Highway police say the vast majority of truck drivers are pros who make safety a top priority. But knowing just how big the drug problem is among those behind the wheel is hard to measure.

Officers say the four Crittenden County weigh stations have only one or two drug or alcohol arrests among commercial drivers a month.

Statewide in Arkansas, among Commercial Drivers, last year there were 220 violations for possession or under the influence of drugs and 168 for possession or under the influence of alcohol.

These are just state numbers and do not count arrests made by local police and sheriff's departments. But the numbers are relatively low in Tennessee as well. In 2003, there were 47 DUI arrests and 641 drug arrests of commercial drivers.

Again the Tennessee numbers do not count arrests made by local police, but indicate that of the millions of truck trips that go through the state annually, the vast majority are law abiding pros who are sober.