Cameras keep an eye on interstate truckers

Infrared cameras at Ashland's Port of Entry on Interstate 5 are the Oregon Department of Transportation's latest strategy to catch truck drivers bypassing required weigh station stops.

The two cameras &

one aimed at the side of trucks, the other recording license plate numbers as they pass the P.O.E. weigh station across the highway from Ashland &

capture a continuous video stream of highway traffic.

First-time offenders receive a photo and a $427 fine in the mail. A repeat violation could result in a $2,500 ticket, a 90-day suspension or jail time.

Since the cameras went up March 13, officers have already issued more than 30 citations, almost as many as the entire six-month period prior to their installation, according to Sven Johnson, who manages the station.

"It's a little bit more than I expected," he said. "Now we're hoping that we're going to all but eliminate the problem."

In 2004, officers stopped pulling over trucks and began using digital point-and-shoot cameras to nab offenders, but the pictures were not always clear, especially at night, Johnson said. The Ashland station became the first in the state to install the $8,000 camera system, which soon will spread to other weigh stations around the state.

Oregon law requires truck drivers to check in for inspections and have their weight and mileage logged, which determines the amount of tax they must pay to drive through the state.

Some drivers with good records can legally bypass the station under the Green Light system, which allows trucks equipped with the technology to drive over scales imbedded in the road and gain clearance automatically.

Those who pass without permission often have suspended licenses or are driving without an Oregon permit. Those trucks cheat the state out of tax dollars and increase road hazards, Johnson said.

"Overweight trucks have a negative impact on the roads," he said. "If you're running overweight, you're going to tear up the road."

Inspectors at the station also check for falsified log books, flat tires or other vehicle problems to ensure the trucks are operating safely.

Because the cameras capture all highway traffic, it is possible that the tapes, which are stored for 10 days, could be used to help police investigations, Johnson said.

Not all truck drivers know they're being filmed, but those who obey the laws say it's a good move.

"I love it," said Roger Hansen, who has been driving log trucks in Oregon for more than 35 years. "If they don't pay their fees, my fees get higher."

Robert Cuevas, a driver from Long Beach, Calif., said he was not aware of the cameras before he stopped in Ashland, or the $2,500 fine possible for driving past, but said he thought it was a good deterrent.

"It's better to pay $8 than to pay that much," he said.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .

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