Dangerous Highways: Inspectors look for unsafe trucks

Editor's note: The Dayton Daily News is launching a series looking at where we spend increasing amounts of time: Our highways. Trucks are getting safer, trucking industry voices say, but safety advocates say too many people still die in crashes involving large trucks.

Nationwide, fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses have dropped for decades. But with more trucks and more small cars on the road, the number of truck-involved crashes on Ohio roads has been rising in recent years.

From Wapakoneta to Centerville, at least three Ohio Highway Patrol motor carrier enforcement inspectors — known as “mickeys” — drive the highways of West Central Ohio, looking for unsafe tractor-trailers and commercial vehicles.

Augmenting troopers, the inspectors search out unsafe driving and vehicles that shouldn’t be on the road. The goal is to lowere the increasing amount of truck-related accidents on Ohio highways.

They pay special attention to Montgomery County, which is considered a “high-crash county” for big rigs, said inspector John Rammel.

They focus on the county two to three days a week, Rammel said.

On a recent busy Friday afternoon, Rammel — a 14-year enforcement inspector — stopped an Indiana driver on westbound Interstate 70 hauling a drainage equipment trailer with a rear door ajar.

The driver, Michael Ray, said he had been unaware of the door.

“I agree 1,000 percent,” Ray, of Brazil, Ind., told Rammel after the inspector pulled him over in the Brookville area. “I wouldn’t go on like that if I had been aware” of the door.

Rammel filed a report on the incident with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which helps oversee transportation enforcement. The violation in the report is listed as “failing to secure load.”

“You have some good quality truck drivers and you have some good quality car drivers,” Rammel said. “And you have the .. ones that I wouldn’t consider good any more.”

There were 3,649 fatal crashes involving large trucks or buses nationally in 2014, the most recent year for which that number is available, down slightly from 3,821 fatal crashes the previous year and 3,726 in 2012, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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While Montgomery County is given particular attention, much of Ohio is considered busy for trucks and the inspectors who monitor them. The Highway Patrol notes that commercial trucks can reach some three-quarters of the U.S. population within a 10-hour drive from Ohio.

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