Wrecks involving big rigs on decline in Garden City

By Christy Hutchings - bio | email

GARDEN CITY, GA (WTOC) - Law enforcement officials usually can't just pull over a big rig to check to make sure they're not breaking any federal regulations. Most officers didn't have the training, but that's changing. More and more communities are doing something about dangerous trucks. Garden City was one of the first, and they say it's making a big difference.

In 2007, Garden City police saw an increase in the number of accidents happening in their area. They say the port was growing and more big rigs were on their roads. That year they had more than 500 accidents, and nearly 200 of those involved big rigs.

That's when Garden City said enough was enough, and decided to start a commercial vehicle unit dedicated to making sure big rigs are following the rules and their trucks are up to code.

Officer Matthew Willcoxon is one of four Garden City police officers assigned to the commercial vehicle unit.  His job is to decide whether a big rig is safe to be on the road or not. If it's not he shuts them down. "We see a lot of commercial trucks with bald tires, brakes that are out of adjustment which affects their braking ability," said Willcoxon.

Immediately, Garden City said it saw the difference the unit was making. In 2008, they sent their first officers to get certified, but the unit wasn't fully up and running. That year, Garden City had 461 accidents, and 212 of those involved big rigs.

The following year in 2009, the unit was up and running. That year, the number of accidents reduced to 461, with 127 involving big rigs.

In 2010, the unit saw another decrease. That year, there were 357 accidents, and only 44 of them involved big rigs.

Capt. Gilbert Ballard with Garden City police attributes the reduction not only to his officers, but state road projects, and other agencies in the county getting on board as well.

In the past, truckers came in and out of the ports with law enforcement having very little authority over them. Now almost every city surrounding the ports has a unit certified to enforce federal and state regulations.

"They understand the days of just taking that risk are over. The likely hood of them being caught is much greater and I believe drivers are paying attention, and I believe the companies that own these trucks and operate these trucks are paying attention, and I think in the end they realize that it's not worth the risk," Ballard said.

While it may seem like truck drivers are being targeted, some say they don't mind. They'd rather the roads to be safe. "It's not bad," said truck driver Rocky King. "It's good they do it. A lot of these truckers out here that own their own trucks they just run them into the ground. They don't do the maintenance on them."

King was stopped by Garden City police for not wearing his seatbelt, but his big rig was up to code. He got off with a warning, but agrees these units are necessary. "When one truck gets in a wreck it's bad on everybody," said King.

Ballard says he's proud of the work the unit has done and he hopes the community sees the difference this unit is making as well.

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