High-tech way to check semi brakes gaining momentum

SEATTLE -- A high-tech state program to check for faulty brakes on big rigs is gaining momentum in Washington with its specialized screening system.

On an average week, about 7,600 semi trucks travel through the I-5 JBLM corridor.

"All it takes is one truck to have a problem," said Victor Bagnal with the WSDOT.

National statistics show a scenario where a fatal crash was caused by a semi that lost its brakes is more common than thought. Roughly 1 in 8 trucks has a defective brake.

Now, there's a cutting-edge program that detects faulty brakes on big rigs through infrared technology.

Through a partnership between WSP and WSDOT, the DuPont weigh station is the test site. Trucks drive over the embedded camera system, which uses thermography to detect the condition of vehicle's brakes. A reddish color indicates good working brakes, and blue suggest flawed brakes.

Washington is the only state using this technology and new sensors are currently being installed.

"That's really what this system is all about is making our highways for everybody to travel up and down our freeways," said Bill Balcom with the WSP Commercial Division. "Our officers can't inspect every one of those trucks, so this is just another tool for our folks... to screen those trucks coming through."

Eventually, a dozen similar sensors will be scattered through the state, including Bow Hill north of Mount Vernon and weigh stations in Cle Elum, Spokane and Ridgefield.

Trucker Kerry Couch says the advanced screening gives him another layer of protection. The company he works for requires drivers check their vehicle before each trip, as the law requires.

"Some drivers don't do their pre-trips and they don't maintain their vehicles and they get into traffic and follow too close and they have to stop and they can't," Couch said.

It's a system the DOT hopes will make the roads safer for all.

"I'm really thrilled personally that we're maybe able to save a life or two with this system," Bagnall said.