Hank Investigates: Renegade Rigs
- Linda Russell
"All of the sudden, I looked up and saw a steel beam across the road. I remember thinking, "God what is that thing? I'm gonna die."
Looking at her accident photos, it's astonishing she didn't. Police investigators found the flatbed was virtually invisible because the truck's side marker lights were burned out.
Our investigation found unenforceable laws, weak penalties and renegade truck companies are putting you on a collision course with dangerous trucks and putting our safety at risk.
We found an 18-wheeler that is just one of them. Moments ago it was in traffic on 128. Then like other big rigs, it pulled off the road by the state police truck team -- all to get surprise inspections.
The result: Police find the rig has major defects. It has a broken tie rod, its steering was shot. In all, 10 safety violations!
"How bad is that?"
"It could be devastating. It's a potential accident."
And this random spot inspection revealed rig after rig with repeated safety problems. There were trucks on the road with burned out lights, unsecured loads, broken axles and defective brakes.
"So he's not stopping as well as he should be?"
"That's exactly what it is."
Trucks with improper cargo, leaking fuel and dangerously overweight.
"The bottom line is we're saving lives by inspecting these trucks."
Troopers yank truck after truck off the road -- literally one out of three --- they check!
The orange "out of service" sticker orders them towed and repaired.
"If you hadn't been here this morning, all these trucks would be out on the highway?"
"And how safe would that be?"
"Well it's not safe."
But there are far more trucks out there than troopers, and for every one they get, thousands more get by.
"Can you possibly catch them all?"
"No, we can't possibly catch them all."
The result is accidents. In 1998 in Massachusetts, about two people a day were injured in car/truck accidents. Three people were killed every month!
State Rep. Paul Caron wants stricter truck safety rules.
"Are Massachusetts highways as safe as they should be?"
Rep. Paul Caron, (D) Hampden
"No. We're not doing everything we can to insure the safety of our citizens."
Example. When the truck team spot-checked one rig, it had five safety violations, and it looked suspiciously familiar. It turned out police had ordered the same truck out of service two months earlier. But here, they've caught it again, unrepaired.
"How can this truck be on the road?"
"They do it all the time."
Here's why. Records reveal last year troopers issued 33,000 truck safety citations. But the fine per ticket is usually just $35! But even if they pay the fine, it doesn't mean they fix the truck.
And there's more. Our investigation found a list of almost 4,000 trucking companies, each with repeated violations, but not one ticket paid! In fact, these records we obtained from the registry show unpaid truck citations totaling more than $2 million!
"How could that happen. How can they get away with it?"
Robert Horak, Registry
"We think that's a problem."
The registry explained they found many companies were playing with the system. They had swapped their plates and manipulated their registrations, and the registry admits its computer couldn't catch them.
"So they were actively.."
"Avoiding payment of citations."
As a result, dangerous trucks that should have been off the road weren't. And the companies knew they'd never be caught.
"So you suspend them and they don't care?..They drive anyway?..And they don't pay their fines?..And they're getting away with it?"
What makes breaking the law even easier is in Massachusetts, unlike most other states, police don't have the power to inspect trucks at company headquarters and stop dangerous rigs before they hit the highway. Troopers complain that's a weapon they need.
"Right now we're not doing the best job we can."
So no matter how relentlessly troopers work to keep renegade rigs off the road, experts know unless the system changes, everyone on the road is still at risk. Just ask Linda Russell.
- Linda Russell
"They're playing with our lives."
The registry says right now they're cracking down on renegade rigs. Now they know which companies are manipulating the system and they're sending letters demanding payment. But officials admit it's going to take a while since as we told you, there are almost 4,000 companies with tickets unpaid.
For more information, visit trucksafety.org.
For more information on legislation to increase truck safety enforcement, contact Rep. Paul Caron, (D) Hampden.