Hidden sensors pinpoint heavy truck violators

February 21, 2009
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LANSING — State Police and the Department of Transportation are using sensors buried under Michigan’s highways to crack down on overweight trucks.

Capt. Robert Powers, commanding officer of the State Police traffic safety division, said the new underground technology could be an effective deterrent to violators.

“Wireless ‘weigh-in-motion’ sites are places where a sensor is buried in the pavement,” Powers said. “When the truck passes over, the sensor measures the weight and speed of the truck. Then an officer with a laptop at a remote location can monitor that and see if the truck is overweight.

“It’s a lot less expensive than a typical weigh station, and legal trucks can continue down the road at a normal speed, so it is very effective,” he said.

The State Police and MDOT began installing weigh-in-motion sensors in 2007. Currently, 20 WIM sensors are located around the state.

Lt. Rodney Bloss, of the State Police motor carrier division, is based in Traverse City and heads the division for 19 northern Lower Peninsula counties and the entire Upper Peninsula. He said the departments must be careful where they put their sensors.

“They have to be strategically placed where we have an officer who can work the area,” he said. “We work very closely with MDOT and we have placed them where we think they can do the most good.

“It is something we recognize and need to be aware of so we can get the most bang for our buck,” he said.

Powers said his agency has had positive feedback about the sensors.

“We installed one on I-75 in Gaylord, and within the first week, an officer using it identified 10 trucks as overweight,” Powers said. “He said that if it hadn’t been for the new equipment, he would have let eight of the trucks go by.”

Jack Peet, traffic safety manager for AAA Michigan based in Grand Rapids, said it’s still too early to declare WIM sensors a success.

“In terms of new technology, there isn’t enough statistical data to make an informed decision, but anything that will assist in the efforts of deterring overweight vehicles from being on the road will be a positive,” he said. “With limited resources, these agencies need assistance in identifying overweight vehicles.

“It’s a little early to say if WIM sensors have had an impact.”

Violators face fines based on the amount of excess weight they’re caught hauling.

Powers spoke recently to the State Transportation Commission about the collaborative efforts of the State Police and MDOT, as well as WIM technology.

Commission adviser Frank Kelley agreed that WIM sensors could be the most successful method of deterring overweight vehicles.

“It is the way to go in the future because it would make it easier for police to detect whether a truck is properly loaded on its axle,” he said.

“It sounds like, in terms of enforcement, it’s difficult to catch them the old way, to the point where we have to use more technology than the truck drivers themselves are using,” he said.

Powers said overweight trucks damage roads.

“Overweight trucks do a tremendous amount of wear and tear to our roadways,” he said. “One truck with a legal weight causes the equivalent damage of 9,000 cars going over the same strip of road. That’s what engineers tell us.

“If a legal truck causes that much wear and tear, the effect of an overweight truck is exponentially higher.”

Kelley said Michigan already allows heavier trucks than other states.

“Michigan has the highest load limit in the United States, and for them to abuse that load limit is not right,” he said. “Our roadways are already underfunded and they’re deteriorating at a rapid pace.”

Powers also said that overweight trucks are a danger to other vehicles.

“An overweight truck going down the road takes more time and distance to stop,” he said. “Overweight trucks can’t maneuver as quickly, and if they are involved in an accident, the damage they could do could be much more severe, so it’s something we’re very concerned about.”

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