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Special Report: Trucking past inspections, how safe are you?

In the mountains, truck drivers can quickly find themselves in dangerous positions.

On Jan. 23, 2017, crews spent 15 hours cleaning up the wreckage of a tractor trailer ripped apart and on its side after the driver traveled left of center on the narrow, twisting Chunn's Cove Road.

RELATED | City of Asheville plans on reviewing tractor-trailer crash

That's why safety regulations are in place. But as a new administration takes shape in Washington, the trucking industry is urging it to re-write safety rules.

Safety advocates claim that could put your family in harm’s way.

It's a range of issues from how rested the driver behind the wheel of a 70,000-pound vehicle beside you on the highway is, to how long his truck should be or how heavy.

In Madison County, North Carolina, not far from the Tennessee state line ...

“I'm really surprised we didn't see a deer down here,” Trooper Mark Lusk, of the NCHP Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement division, said.

Getting around the county requires winding, mountain roads.

“Basically, what you're trying to do is prevent wrecks down here,” Lusk explained.

Not everyone successfully navigates those twisting, winding roads. In November, a truck carrying a non-hazardous chemical flipped into the creek, prompting calls to News 13’s Investigative Team asking if 18-wheelers using Highway 208 are legal. The claim -- drivers use Highway 208 to bypass safety regulations at the weigh stations. News 13 met with troopers to investigate.

“If you can keep the trucks that aren't supposed to be here off the road, you're going to reduce collisions involving those types of vehicles,” Lusk said.

While it's tough to prove purposeful avoidance, the answer is some trucks are legal. Local drivers and deliveries are within the law. Off camera, a truck driver admitted he's had radio calls for ways around weigh stations on Interstate 26 and safety inspections like the one the Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement division conducts.

“Give me your headlights,” Lusk said as he walked around the tractor trailer inspecting various items, including the truck’s windshield wipers.

A light out on a driver’s cab is a violation and could mar the safety rating, raising insurance premiums.

Troopers along Highway 208 stopped at least a half dozen trucks over a few hours as News 13 rode with them. Two drivers ignored signs pushing them back to the interstate trying to save gas and time.

“From the understanding from the troopers taking the enforcement action, they were using it as a cut through,” Sgt. Greggory Dills, with the NCHP Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement division, said.

A cut through that poses safety concerns for other vehicles on the roadway. There's a reason for banning trailers over 48 feet.

“From the length of the trailer, it can actually trail off into the on-coming lane of traffic, which then can cause a very serious collision,” Dills said.

Both are 53-feet long. It's this disregard for regulations and safety and industry partners pushing for longer, wider trailers and increased weight limits that concern safety advocate Jackie Novak.

“Regulations come about because of problems,” Novak said.

The trucking industry and drivers, including Terry Creech, are pushing the Trump administration and Republicans to roll back safety requirements.

“I'm hoping he'll deregulate the industry,” Creech said.

Creech and the American Trucking Association want Congress to block state laws requiring additional rest breaks beyond federal rules.

“We're not children. We know when we're tried, we know when we're hungry, we know when we're sleepy and we don't need the federal government creating tons and tons and tons of laws to tell us when to eat, when to sleep, how long we have to break,” Creechsaid.

Novak disagrees.

“Left to their own devices, people are not nice,” Novak said.

The state annually writes between 18,000 and 21,000 out of service violations, which include excessive speeding and reckless driving, among other safety violations. Annually, that amounts to $1.9 million dollars in fines.

Two and a half years before mandatory break laws, a drowsy driver, passed a rest area and caused a horrific scene on I-26 in Fletcher, slamming into stopped traffic.

“I had six miscarriages, so my son was it for me. Now, he's gone, just gone,” Novak said.

Novak's son, his girlfriend and three others lives were cut short.

Interstate 26 through Western North Carolina, according to the Highway Patrol, sees more truck traffic than any other North Carolina highway. It's a direct route to the Charleston, South Carolina, port.

“My son was not a cost of doing business, my son was a human being, my son was a father,” Novak said.

Her son, the dent in his Army ring, that's the reason she's headed back to Washington D.C. in May to fight for safety standards.

“Businesses get certified, and that's what they're doing at these weigh stations. They're just certifying that you're safe, that you're carrying the correct amount of weight, that your brakes are in good working condition, that you haven't been driving so far that you can't keep your eyes open anymore. That's what they're there for, to keep the public safe,” Novak said.

Troopers agree, pointing to fewer violations since safety ratings started.

“They started assessing companies points on their safety rating on safety violations found, and, from what I've seen, you're actually beginning to see fewer violations, due to that fact,” Lusk said.

Last year, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks nationwide increased by 8 percent. But, overall, in the past 10 years since hour of service and other safety factors were implemented, fatal crashes decreased 26 percent. It’s left Novak to question why roll back safety standards?

“The government is supposed to represent the people. We're not here to represent corporation, we're not,” Novak said.

As part of the investigation, News 13 also reached out to Trans Tech, a truck driving training school in Arden. It disagrees with the ATA and claim safety regulations do work. While it sees a need for mandatory rest breaks, it believes requirements should be standard state to state.

If you have something you want the I-Team to investigate, email us at iteam@wlos.com


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