It made local, state and national news when it happened.
May of 2015. A deadly crash on I-16. 5 Georgia Southern nursing students on their way to last day of clinicals killed.
It was the first of two deadly crashes involving tractor trailers on that stretch of highway. That crash also left five people dead.
But the question many folks have is what’s happened since? What’s being done to protect you and everyone else on the road?
“To lose 5 young, promising ladies who had devoted their lives and their future to the profession of nursing is indeed a tragedy,” said Governor Nathan Deal at a ceremony honoring the nursing students back in January.
A tragedy memorialized on the side of I-16, and a sight becoming all too familiar for folks in our area.
“That’s not numbers on a tote board,” said Harris Blackwood, Director of the Governor’s Office of Traffic Safety. “Every one of those fatalities represents a family whose lives have been change forever.”
Since those two deadly crashes last year, change has come to our highways and to truckers, in the form of compliance officers making sure they follow the law to a T.
The charts show inspections by the motor vehicle carrier compliance unit up by 7000, and violations during those inspections up almost 11,000.
“It’s a tragedy but we are going to do our best. We don’t want another one,” explained Captain Jeremy Vickery, Executive Officer of the Motor Carrier Compliance Division.
Captain Jeremy Vickery of the Georgia Motor Vehicle Compliance Division says his officers are taking the challenge of safety on the roads personally. Working harder every day to make sure each driver and the trucks are up to code on and off the road.
“We are targeting speed, distracted driving, cell phone usage, speeding, following too close,” explained Vickery.
A map shows exactly how far reaching the effects of commercial driver accidents are, the brighter the color, the more accidents and deaths connected to 18 wheelers or commercial vehicles.
“You have an 80,000 pound vehicle vs a 4000 pound vehicle, so of course when they are in a crash its going to cause damage,” says Captain Vickery.
“One lug nut loose would give time for another to get loose.You have one you have two, then you’ll have three,” said Justin Sumner, an Officer with Motor Vehicle Compliance.
Inspections and inspectors like Officer Justin Sumner are the first line of defense.
“I heard a lot of them saying they notice we are out there a lot more. We’ve been out there the same really. At the same time our enforcement has jumped up. And I’ve seen a lot more compliance” explained Sumner.
Compliance by drivers because they know these officers are watching. The charts break down numbers of crashes by the time of day and location. That way officials know when most officers should be scheduled and on the roads for maximum safety and compliance checks.
There is still a big job ahead. Texting and Cell Phone violations by truckers have almost doubled since last May, and speeding violations by big rigs have nearly tripled.
“You would think commercial vehicles maybe 0-6 miles per hour over,but the majority of ours are 11-15 miles per hour over,” explains Vickery.
“Would you want an 18 wheeler that 80,000 pound 1.3 seconds behind you?” asks Officer Jeremy Maybin.
“I wouldn’t either”
That’s the frightening number that one officer caught while News 3 was with the officers watching the roads.
It was on Trucam. One piece of the new technology the department is investing in to protect all drivers.
It catches speed and distance of any truck, and takes a picture to boot.
“He was actually going faster than the people in front of him,. he was actually catching up to him,” explains Officer Maybin.”You have got to give these trucks room because they’ve got more blind spots than anybody else on the road has.”
Add that to the investment made by the Georgia Ports Authority, to help pay for 60 new officers around the state, 25 of those to be placed right in our area, and its very clear no one wants to see another memorial wreath alongside the highway again.
“After that accident a lot of officers felt like yeah i am doing a good thing. the more unsafe vehicles i can get off the road the better. maybe more of these accidents won’t happen again,” said Vickery.
36 new officers have already been hired and added to the force of that 60 paid for by the Ports and the State. Recruitment efforts are underway to find even more qualified candidates.
Vickery himself created a new program called “Stop the Threat” which takes education for drivers and trucking companies off the side of the road and into a business or classroom, so everyone knows the rules and dangers.
The biggest danger everyone agrees is driving too long.
Truckers are supposed to only drive for 12 hour stretches and take 10 hours off before hitting the road again.
Compliance officers will be checking log books and making sure no driver is forging his hours, which can be a criminal offense.
That was one of the factors in the crash that led to the five GSU students’ death.