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Deal expands highway-safety enforcement efforts
April wreck that killed GSU nursing students among incidents prompting changes
Deal in Bryan County 1
Gov. Nathan Deal, flanked by Georgia Motor Carrier Compliance officers (in black shirts) and Georgia State Patrol troopers (in blue shirts) unveils the state's stepped-up highway-safety efforts during a stop at the weigh station at mile marker 144 of westbound Interstate 16 in Black Creek on Thursday morning. - photo by Photo provided.

A chain-reaction crash that claimed the lives of five Georgia Southern University nursing students on April 22 is still fresh on people’s minds.

The deadly pileup on Interstate 16 near the Highway 280 exit began when a tractor-trailer failed to slow down and smashed into stop-and-go traffic, which was caused by an earlier wreck involving another tractor-trailer and an RV, according to investigators.

While the tragedy garnered as much attention as any local wreck in recent memory, it was far from the first deadly crashinvolving commercial truck traffic in Bryan County.

“We’ve had our share of tractor-trailer accidents here with fatalities over the years,” Richmond Hill Police Chief Billy Reynolds said. “When those big trucks hit things, it just doesn’t work out good for anybody.”

A new state initiative aims to change that. During a visit to North Bryan County on Thursday, Gov. Nathan Deal announced the addition of 60 commercial-vehicle enforcement officers to improve highway safety and help reduce motor-vehicle crashes in Georgia.

Deal and the Georgia Department of Public Safety made the announcement not far from where the deadly crash involving the GSU students occurred. The governor was flanked by Georgia State Patrol troopers and Motor Carrier Compliance officers at the weigh station on westbound I-16 at mile marker 144 in Black Creek.

“As Georgia’s population and its economy continue to grow, we must adapt to meet the needs of a vibrant state,” Deal said. “While an expansion of the Savannah Harbor means jobs for Georgians and a boost to our economy, it will also mean an increase in commercial-vehicle traffic. The safety of our drivers and the effective transportation of goods are of critical importance. This investment is a significant step forward in meeting these goals.”

The Department of Public Safety and the Georgia Ports Authority are partnering to fund the additional officers. The state currently has 234 commercial-vehicle enforcement officers serving in 10 regions.

The officers will patrol areas identified by the Department of Public Safety as “high-crash corridors.” Those areas include I-16 and I-95, as well as the Atlanta metro area, and the area south of Atlanta along I-85.

“We need this extra enforcement out here to do those checks,” Reynolds said. “There’s just not enough people for that now. So, hopefully, the additional officers will help, and hopefully we’ll see more of those officers here in Bryan County because there is a lot of truck traffic on I-95 as well as on I-16.”

Along with the two interstates, Bryan County has large trucks stops at exits 87 and 90 along I-95. Also, construction along the I-16 corridor has contributed to traffic backups, Reynolds said.

Adding the officerswill allow for more roadside safety inspections and reviews of truckers’ compliance safety performance, said Capt. Billy Hitchens, the commander of Georgia State Patrol Troop I, which includes Bryan County.

“It will be imperative to make sure the Georgia Department of Public Safety takes the proper steps to ensure these commercial motor vehicles are properly following the established state and federal laws and regulations to improve the safety of all of our motoring public,” Hitchens said.

The initiative will boost the staffing of theMotor Carrier Compliance division to “100 percent,” according to state Public Safety Commissioner Mark McDonough.

“It could not have come at a more strategic time with the beginning of the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project,” McDonough said. “The department's primary mission is traffic enforcement and public safety, and this will better equip our officers to serve the citizens of the state of Georgia, as well as those that choose to travel and conduct business here.”

Additional safety measures have also been implemented as part of this campaign, including:

* The Georgia Targeting Aggressive Cars and Trucks Program, Operation Safe Drive on 95 — a joint operation between Georgia officers and their commercial-vehicle enforcement counterparts in surrounding states

* Just Pull ’em Over — an enforcement campaign involving local agencies through the traffic-enforcement networks with the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety

* Ongoing partnerships with the Georgia Motor Trucking Association and the Georgia Motorcoach Operators Association

* Compliance reviews and safety audits on Georgia-based carriers by Motor Carrier Compliance division officers

* Concentrated patrols to enforce speeding, distracted driving and safety-belt violations and to conduct Level 3 inspections. A Level 3 inspection includes examination of the driver’s license, medical-examiner’s certificate, pre-trip inspection, driver’s record-of-duty status, hours of service, seat-belt and hazardous materials/dangerous goods requirements.

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