Appeasing truck companies made Ga. roads more treacherous

A routine truck inspection could have saved Syble Cooper’s life.

This is what remained of Syble Cooper's Honda CR-V after a crash in April. An oncoming dump truck blew a front tire and veered into her lane, according to a police report. GEORGIA STATE PATROL

The 69-year-old grandmother died in April, on a Gainesville highway just a few miles from her home. Cooper was rounding a curve on Poplar Springs Road, taking a meal to her sister, when an oncoming dump truck blew a tire and veered into her lane.

Had the dump truck driver been pulled over beforehand by a trained truck inspector, he would have been taken off the road, Capt. Jeremy Vickery of state Motor Carrier Compliance Division told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The driver didn’t have a license to drive a truck with air brakes and was physically unqualified, requiring insulin for diabetes, a post-crash inspection report says.

But Georgia has been checking fewer and fewer commercial vehicles each year for unfit drivers and other safety hazards. Meanwhile, the risk to drivers of colliding with the biggest trucks on the road has been rising sharply, an analysis of state crash data by the AJC found.

Another horrific crash: Hafiz Illays burned alive in October 2013 after a Freightliner hauling frozen chicken changed into his lane without signaling. This is what remained of Ilyas’ Toyota Camry. GWINNETT COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT

A story in Sunday’s AJC – which you can read here in a special interactive presentation – traces the trend back to 2011. That was the year a change in state law, designed to appease truckers, truck companies and trucking lobbyists, drastically altered commercial vehicle regulation in Georgia.

Garden City Police Chief Greg David Lyons tried in vain to stop that policy change, speaking out to both the Georgia Public Safety commissioner and Gov. Nathan Deal's staff. His city, adjacent to Savannah, bustles with truck traffic from the busy Savannah port.

"It stands to reason that the more people you got out there looking for unsafe vehicles," Lyons said, "the more likely you are of decreasing motor carrier accidents. That just makes sense to me."

Read why Georgia took eyes off big trucks at and in Sunday's AJC.

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About the Author

Johnny Edwards
Johnny Edwards
Johnny Edwards is a member of the AJC’s investigative team, focusing on the private sector and state and federal regulation. He has worked at the newspaper...