Video: 18-wheelers roll, but are they safe?

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 6/16/2005 8:12:55 PM ET 2005-06-17T00:12:55

DALLAS — In Texas, a spot check of more than 5,500 semi-trailer trucks found that one out of four — more than 1,500 of the big rigs — were unsafe and were pulled off the road.

"These last two wheels could come off and that could cause a pretty bad accident," said one inspector as he examined a truck.

It’s called “Roadcheck,” an annual, random, nationwide screening of 18-wheelers and their drivers to ensure they do not pose a danger to other motorists. Last year, the national figures were similar to Texas’s: About 24 percent of the trucks were taken out of service by the police.

And yet accidents involving big rigs continue.

A recent accident in Dallas involved a truck full of combustible material becoming a fireball after striking a guardrail on Interstate 20 when the driver allegedly fell asleep. Amazingly, nobody was killed.

That wasn’t the case in a wreck near Sherman, Texas, where 10 people died when a tractor-trailer crossed the median, crushing two other vehicles.

"The truckers get notoriety," says Gary Williams, of Gun Town, Miss., on his way from Waco, Texas, to Memphis, Tenn. "Eighty-thousand pounds of muscle, blood and steel in a pile. It's spectacular."

He blames cars — four-wheelers, he calls them — for many of the big truck accidents.

"I see more cars stopped for speeding than I do trucks," says Williams, who's been driving for 32 years. "They just can't stand to be behind a truck. They just gotta be in front of it."

Williams and other drivers say there are still a lot of unsafe trucks on the road. So they urge motorists to drive defensively and look out for those blind spots.

By far the biggest problem found in the truck inspections was bad brakes.

"It takes them awhile to stop, even when conditions are perfect, so you need to make sure that you don't cut them off," says Tela Mange of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

That’s sound advice as Americans head into the busy summer driving season.

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