State Politics

Safety data inspired trucker tickets, NC State Highway Patrol says

Truck traffic into a truck stop at the intersection of Hwy 89 and I-77 is crowded with truckers in Surry County in northwestern North Carolina. NC Highway Patrol troopers write the most tickets for roadside napping to interstate truckers in Surry County, and truckers complain there aren't enough areas for them to take breaks when on the road.
Truck traffic into a truck stop at the intersection of Hwy 89 and I-77 is crowded with truckers in Surry County in northwestern North Carolina. NC Highway Patrol troopers write the most tickets for roadside napping to interstate truckers in Surry County, and truckers complain there aren't enough areas for them to take breaks when on the road. cliddy@newsobserver.com

A new statewide campaign to nab violators of an obscure no-parking law reflects “a data driven approach” based on interstate highway crash statistics, the State Highway Patrol commander says.

Troopers ticketed more than 200 truck drivers this summer for parking on the shoulders of interstate highway on- and off-ramps, often for naps required under federal truck safety rules. The News & Observer reported Sunday that the effort was prompted by complaints expressed personally to Gov. Pat McCrory by a longtime political backer, Charlie Shelton of Surry County.

The new enforcement push is aimed at all vehicles parked along interstates and interstate ramps, the Highway Patrol says, in violation of a state law that was lightly enforced in the past.

Col. William Grey, the Highway Patrol commander, cited state Department of Transportation statistics for the past five years, showing that parked vehicles were a factor in 101 out of the 512 deaths recorded in interstate highway crashes.

“It’s dangerous to stop alongside any of these roads – on-ramps, off-ramps or interstates,” Grey said in an interview Monday evening. “Any violation is a hazard. That’s a fatality waiting to happen.”

The Highway Patrol initially assigned a handful of troopers to concentrate their enforcement at a single Interstate 77 exit used by Shelton and 80,000 visitors who come each year to his family business, Shelton Vineyards. Shelton invited Grey to Surry County to show him what he called the “unsightly” problem of trucks parked at several exits.

“After a specific concern on this issue was raised, I personally visited that section of Interstate 77 and determined it was time to step up our enforcement,” Grey said in a written statement released Sunday.

The Highway Patrol said it has no data on whether any crash deaths were related to vehicles parked on interstate ramps, and Grey said he didn’t know of any such cases.

Grey said troopers will not relax their enforcement of speeding, impaired driving and other traffic laws as they patrol the ramps looking for parked cars and trucks.

“We focus on anything that’s a safety-of-life issue,” Grey said. “I expect them to be able to do all of it at the same time.”

The governor endorsed the no-parking push in a brief statement issued Monday afternoon:

“I stand by any and all efforts to enforce road safety laws, especially when illegal parking has caused nearly 20 percent of the interstate roadway fatalities during the last five years,” McCrory said.

According to a database the Highway Patrol created for its no-parking campaign, more than half the tickets issued during June, July and August were in Surry County.

“While we are always receptive to citizen’s concerns regarding safety, we verify those concerns using a data driven approach in our enforcement campaigns,” Grey said in the statement released by a spokeswoman Sunday.

Many truck drivers have said they park on interstate ramps only when no legal parking spaces are available at truck stops and rest areas. Federal truck safety rules provide penalties for truckers who drive too many hours without rest.

“We truckers are having trouble finding places to pull over and rest, which is mandated by the federal laws,” driver Kenneth Collie of Butner, 47, said Monday. “What do we do? We can’t pull over on the side of the road no more. We get a ticket.”

Shelton and his brother, Ed, and their families and employees contributed $32,000 to McCrory’s campaign in the year before his election as governor in 2012. In June, the Shelton brothers wrote thank-you notes to Grey and McCrory to express appreciation for the new Highway Patrol enforcement effort, and they contributed $3,000 apiece to McCrory’s re-election campaign.

Bruce Siceloff: 919-829-4527, @Road_Worrier

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