In Our View: Highway Safety Boosted

Truck inspection station combines high-tech gadgets, dedicated officers

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Before assessing what occurs at the Ridgefield Port of Entry on Interstate 5, here's a tip of The Columbian hat and a sincere "thank you" to truckers for keeping our economy going and transporting countless products and commodities, the arrival of which folks often take for granted. We have the utmost respect for professional drivers who must perform to higher standards — and incur greater financial penalties for violations — than the rest of the motoring public.We're also thankful for a powerful combination of modern technology and law enforcement dedication that is carried out daily at the highly visible truck inspection station on the freeway adjacent to Tri-Mountain Golf Course. About 3,000 trucks pass through the station each day (another 2,400 are allowed to bypass the scales) and about 300 trucks undergo full inspections.

High-tech wizardry is making it tougher to break trucking laws these days. There's a weigh-in-motion scale on the highway that sends a signal to officials at the station. And a license-plate reader can detect trucks that have had problems with low safety ratings. A recent Columbian story by Patty Hastings quoted Lt. Roy Rhine of the Ridgefield Police Department: "We know a lot about that vehicle before it ever comes in the scale house." Indeed, 36 bits of data are provided by the various gadgets.

And it's not going to get any easier for possible violators. Next year an infrared camera will be installed to check brakes and determine if a truck's tire pressures are low.

The triple results of this complicated operation are (1) safer highways for all of the motoring public (2) a more professional working environment for truckers and (3) greater efficiencies for taxpayers as roads are used more properly.

Of course, not every truck driver is bothered by a guilty conscience, and some who suspect or know they are out of compliance with the law will try other routes to avoid the inspections. In response, law officers collaborate to set up temporary stations on back roads. One such safety emphasis day occurred back in March, and another took place Thursday. Participating agencies included the Clark County Sheriff's Office, the La Center and Ridgefield police departments, the Washington State Patrol and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, about 20 officers in all.

On Thursday, though, a new wrinkle was added. Officials determined that one back road used by truckers to avoid inspections was Highway 30 in Oregon, along the Columbia River. Last week, officers of the Oregon State Patrol joined the effort on their side of the river. The most common violations on Thursday involved unsecured loads. Typically, the most frequent problems are overweight trucks, and the penalties can be ghastly. Some fines soar into the tens of thousands of dollars. Truckers also are penalized for faulty lights, worn-out tires and drivers who have suspended licenses, follow too closely or don't wear seat belts.

Smart transport companies are mighty strict on their drivers. Smart truckers comply. And compliant drivers have scant patience with other truckers who don't follow the rules.

We salute the law officers at the Ridgefield Port of Entry and elsewhere who enforce trucking laws. And we thank professional drivers who help keep highways safer.

Movies, TV and country music are replete with rhapsodic references to trucking violations. Fortunately, the real professionals know it's safer and cheaper to obey the law.