Highway Patrol eases off truck ticketing after protests

The State Highway Patrol has ceased writing high-dollar tickets to the drivers of overweight trucks accused of minor violations after the N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that troopers were being heavy-handed.

But a bill addressing several aspects of the state's motor vehicles laws is in the state legislature and could reinstate the high fines, which ran as much as $25,000.

In five unanimous decisions finalized in March, the appeals court sided with rulings made last year by several state superior court judges that found troopers were stepping beyond their authority by writing the tickets.

The hefty fines were assessed after troopers invalidated special permits for trucks carrying heavy loads. The trucks had been cited for minor violations like traveling off route or not having the required number of escorts and then had their fines based on their weights, which were upward of 181,000 pounds in some cases.

Dozens of out-of-state trucking companies fought their tickets.

"We felt that the officers weren't using what we'd call good judgment," said Paul Ross, a vice-president with Keen Transport, Inc., a Pennsylvania company. "We felt that it was a money-making attempt by the state."

That, said Capt. Everett Clendenin of the Highway Patrol, wasn't the case. Troopers were following the rules, he said.

"That's ridiculous," Clendenin said. "Because of the way the economy is, we're hearing that from everybody. We do it for safety reasons."

And the patrol is continuing to keep an eye on heavy trucks, Clendenin said. The agency announced Tuesday that it weighed 689 trucks last week in several counties, including Wake and Mecklenburg, and handed out $125,126 in fines.

A total of 136 drivers were cited, 14 of them taken off the road. And 266 trucks were cited. Of those, 46 trucks were removed from service for violations, according to the Highway Patrol.

The state had long been lax about ticketing trucks that exceeded weight limits on state highways, according to a 2005 investigation by The News & Observer. Overweight trucks cause an estimated $130 million worth of damage to North Carolina roads each year.

In January 2008, Clendenin told The News & Observer that more than $38.8 million in fines were levied against overweight trucks since 2004, when troopers received the authority to target the heavy trucks.

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