AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Scared of huge trucks? Put the odds in your favor

The same year the state cut back on inspections of tractor trailers and other big trucks, commercial vehicle crashes in Georgia started climbing, according to a special report in last Sunday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Inspections, done by state Motor Carrier Compliance Division officers, help keep trucks with serious mechanical problems and unfit drivers off our roads. A thorough inspection checks braking systems, steering, tire treads, headlights and tail lights, turn signals, windshield wipers, the driver's medical card and driving logs, among a litany of other things.

Here is what an intensive “level one" inspection looks like:


To find out why the state scaled back on inspections – and how a 2011 policy change accommodated truck companies and trucking lobbyists who felt some inspectors were being overly aggressive – you can read Sunday's story here in interactive format.

"I hate to be cynical," said Michael Belzer, an economics professor, former trucker and author of "Sweatshops on Wheels: Winners and Losers in Trucking Deregulation." "The trucking companies … they all are active politically. They lobby their legislators and regulators and what have you. And more or less, they’re pretty effective at it."

For those of us who aren't trained inspectors, there are other ways to prevent devastating highway crashes. Since Sunday's story published, we've heard from some truckers pointing out that reckless car drivers pose just as big of a safety risk, especially when they disrespect trucks and the basic laws of physics.

"As a truck driver," one reader said in an email, "I observe car drivers jumping into my travel lane as I am trying to come to a safe stop, suddenly pulling onto the interstate from the shoulder in front of a truck driving at 65 mph,  exiting the interstate to the right from center lane across the front of my truck at the last second, erratic driving due to cell phone use, etc., etc., etc., on a daily basis."

Here are some ways to avoid tangling with big rigs, courtesy of Road Safe America:

  • Avoid trucks' blind spots. If you can’t see a truck’s side mirrors, the truck driver can’t see you.
  • Do not pass a truck on the right while the truck is turning right. Trucks must swing wide to the left to negotiate right turns safely.
  • Do not cut in front of any large vehicles, since they require much more distance to stop.
  • Do not cut off a truck in traffic or on the highway to reach your exit or turn.
  • Accelerate slightly and maintain a consistent speed while passing a truck. Wait until you can see the entire cab in your rear-view mirror before signaling and pulling in front of it.
  • Watch a truck’s turn signals before trying to pass it.
  • Give trucks at least four to six seconds of space in wet conditions and at highway speeds.

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About the Author

Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper since 2010.