Smithfield (North Carolina) Herald News Observer; Saturday, June 23, 2012 

Photo caption: State trooper Jack Clark checks underneath a truck on Tuesday during a checkpoint inspection.

BENSON - A trip through Johnston County on Interstate 40 took a bit longer than usual for truckers on Tuesday and Wednesday.

As traffic approached the two rest areas north of Benson, flashing orange signs directed all trucks to pull off into the parking lot. State troopers lined the highway to catch anyone who tried to skip the mandatory pit stop.

The N.C. Highway Patrol chose the stretch of I-40 here for its annual “Operation Road Watch” truck safety event. For two days, dozens of troopers focused on getting unsafe or overweight trucks and sleepy drivers off the highway.

“The goal of this event is to reduce collisions between trucks and other vehicles,” said Lt. Col. Gary Bell of the Highway Patrol. “I have instructed our troopers to aggressively crack down on commercial motor vehicle violations.”

Last year alone, North Carolina had 5,300 crashes involving trucks and other cars; 87 people died in those wrecks.

To encourage truckers to keep their rigs safe, last week’s checkpoints required every truck on I-40 to undergo an inspection. State troopers pored over logbooks, checked tires and crawled underneath trucks to make sure everything was in order. The inspections took about 45 minutes; some trucks that had violations were stopped for more than an hour. And serious violators weren’t allowed to return to the highway; last year’s “Operation Road Watch” pulled 68 vehicles out of service after inspecting 615 trucks.

The checkpoints might seem like a hassle to truckers on a tight schedule, but trucker Rodney Wrenn of Person County said he didn’t mind the unexpected inspection. “I’d rather everyone be safe on the road,” he said, adding that another truck’s blown tire could put his life in jeopardy. “They check us all the time, and that’s a good thing.”

While smaller vehicles got to bypass the checkpoint on Tuesday and Wednesday, troopers kept an eye on them too. Some got pulled over and ticketed if they weren’t sharing the road with the truckers. “We’re also focusing on passenger vehicles following too close or not giving enough stopping distance,” said Sgt. Jeff Gordon, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol.

Keeping trucks and cars from colliding, he added, is a two-way street, and everyone has to do their part.