AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Why dangerous trucks still drive Georgia highways, part II

As you're locked behind semis on I-285, do you wonder which trucks pose the greatest danger?

The federal government actually has a scoring system to identify them. Using those scores, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is supposed to target dangerous motor carriers for extra enforcement, like roadside inspections that might discover buzzed drivers or rigs running with hot brakes or unsecured loads.

Yet high-risk big rigs continue to be involved in deadly crashes. In 2013, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated four carriers involved in crashes that, together, resulted in 25 deaths and 83 injuries. Turns out the companies had undergone safety reviews prior to the crashes - one only five days before the accident - but those inspections did not uncover pre-existing safety deficiencies. And the FMCSA didn't act on other safety issues until after the crashes, NTSB reported.

The last straw apparently came in 2014, when another high-risk carrier with a long history of violations was involved in a fatal crash in Illinois. This past March, another federal agency - the Government Accountability Office - cast doubt on the safety scoring system for trucking companies. While the system, implemented in late 2010, is better than the one FMCSA had been using, its gaps "raise questions about whether (the system) is able to identify and target the carriers at highest risk for crashing in the future," a GAO official reported to Congress.

Last month, the inspector general for the Department of Transportation said it was launching an audit to find out if the safety reviews were timely and adequate.

AJC is taking a look at the Georgia tractor-trailer companies ranked as among the nation's worst. Stay tuned: We'll name names.

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About the Author

Lois Norder is Senior Editor for Investigations in the newsroom at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.