Tipping the Scales

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MENOMONIE, Wis. (WEAU) -- Driving down the highway, you have probably noticed the weigh stations on the side of the road. And it’s likely you’ve seen them when they’re closed.

Over the past 4 years, the 13 weigh stations in Wisconsin were open roughly 20% out of the day in a 24/7 trucking industry. But how does this affect your safety?

State patrol inspectors staff those weigh stations. Different types of trucks are held to different weight standards and the inspectors look carefully to find violations. The problem is there are fewer of those inspectors working for the state than there have been in the past; fewer inspectors mean fewer inspections, and more chances for damaged roads because of it.

State Patrol Captain Brian Ausloos said, “Each commercial motor vehicle inspection: the safety benefit recognized is $2,414 per inspection."

Those benefits include fewer crashes along with keeping the roads in better shape.

In 2016, Wisconsin conducted more than 35,000 safety inspections on big rigs. But Captain Ausloos says the state could provide millions of dollars more in safety benefits with more inspections. That's because he estimates that each inspector provides more than $1 million in those benefits every year.

Right now, he says the inspections provide a total of nearly $80 million in safety benefits annually.

"For every $1 spent with these enforcement activities, we're looking at an increase of $18 worth of safety benefits,” Ausloos said.

State Patrol inspector, Greg Venne, admits the department won't likely catch every overweight truck. He believes having more inspectors on hand would keep more drivers honest in that regard.

"We probably get a small percentage of the actual overweight violations," Venne said. "With less manpower, you're definitely not going to have as many officers out there enforcing laws.

Right now, the State Patrol has about 80 inspectors. It has 19 vacancies. Even filling all those jobs wouldn't keep the stations open much longer, partly because inspectors have other responsibilities as well.

“Manpower is probably the only way to get those scales open more," State Patrol Sergeant, Bill Berger, said.

Bob Lewis has spent the last 36 years driving truck. Recently, he was tagged with his first violation in more than 15 years and calls the current system "checks and balances" between drivers and inspectors.

"I think they're open an appropriate amount,” Lewis said. “If you just watch your stuff, you'll be okay."

Recently, the State Patrol tried to ease the staffing problem to help keep the weigh stations open more often, but it didn't pan out.

"We requested an increase of 24 additional inspectors, 2 additional supervisors to manage those resources, and that initiative was not supported," Ausloos said.

Does the State Patrol think more staff is needed to keep the weigh stations open?

"Common sense would dictate that if we had more officers out there, we would be finding more violations, there would be more citations issued," Sergeant Berger said.

Some drivers I spoke with say they don't care for the weigh stations because they say they get inspected too often, but Lewis thinks differently.

"They're necessary,” Lewis said. “They do a good job. Safety is a public thing."

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