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Trucking System Will Link State Inspections

Transponders and green lights will tell truckers when to stop at weigh stations

By Nick Wakeman, Staff Writer

When BJ and the Bear were still behind the wheel, a tractor trailer's high-tech gadgetry consisted mostly of a CB radio and maybe an 8-track tape deck.

But a system being pushed by the Federal Highway Administration will link truckers on the road with computer and communication systems in all states.

Truckers won't even have to key a mike and say, "Breaker, breaker."

The Commercial Vehicle Information System Network will create an electronic system, rather than the current paper one, for roadside inspections and for getting credentials to haul freight through each state, said Paul Popick of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The lab is coordinating development efforts for the government.

A prototype of the system has been developed in Maryland and Virginia by RS Information Systems, Reston, Va. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently awarded grants for pilot programs in eight other states - California, Connecticut, Colorado, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon and Washington.

Oregon and Washington are sharing one of seven $1 million grants. The states must also provide matching funds.

The system has two basic components, one for providing credentials to interstate truckers electronically and another for connecting roadside inspectors to a state and national system.

Currently, truckers must contact each state to file for permits and other credentials before they can haul loads through the state, Popick said.

These paper systems take time and money for trucking companies to satisfy, he said.

"You can burn up the better part of a day getting the permits for one state just to drive through it," said Popick, who is a project manager on CVISN. Many interstate trucking companies need hundreds of permits in each state. But CVISN will allow truckers to file and pay for permits electronically from their own offices, he said.

Filing forms electronically will take about a fifth of the time of a paper system, depending on individual state requirements, said Scott Amey, executive vice president of RS Information Systems.

The program will check the electronic forms for errors and omissions before being sent to the state agencies. Time also will be saved because data entry by the states will be eliminated, he said.

The system also consolidates the requirements within a state, so a trucking company must only file one form electronically per state rather than dealing with as many as five different state agencies for the various permits, said Michael Onder, program manager for Intelligent Transportation Systems Commercial Vehicle Operations in the Federal Highway Administration.

The second part of the system will allow inspectors to have this information available to them at the roadside and to pass inspection results on to their counterparts in other states. The information will streamline inspections, Popick said.

The system should be operational in all 50 states by 2005, Onder said.

Tractor trailers backed up at weigh stations awaiting inspection can be a common sight on interstates. The situation can pose two safety hazards, said Amey.

The trucks waiting on queue can cause other traffic to slow down suddenly and inspectors often close the station to reduce the backup, Amey said. This can allow unsafe trucks to bypass the station and avoid inspection.

But under CVISN, trucks will have a transponder on board that will communicate with a roadside reader about a mile ahead of the weigh station, he said. The transponder is similar to one used for electronic tolls.

The reader will identify the truck, check databases for credentials and safety records and signal the driver via a red or green light in the truck's cab whether he must stop at the upcoming weigh station, he said.

A weigh-in-motion machine also will estimate the weight of the truck as it passes, Amey said.

Because states will be sharing information, results of an inspection in one state will be available to officials in another state, Popick said.

Since nearly nine in 10 trucks are in compliance, most should be able to pass, reducing the lines and letting police focus on trucks in violation, Amey said.

"Truckers will see that if they operate in compliance they will be able to get from Maine to Florida with minimal delays," he said.

But before that can happen, the system must be built.

Winning the $3 million contract to develop the prototype system in Virginia and Maryland was a boost for RS Information, which is less than four years old, Amey said.

The 8(a) company has about 100 employees and focuses on software development, network engineering, document imaging and electronic data interchange technologies, he said.

When the company won the contract in 1994, CVISN started as a four-person project but has since grown to 20 people, he said.

"They have continued to ask us to do a lot of other things," Amey said.

With the addition of pilots in the other states, RS Information will be providing general support, such as supplying a project conferencing computer so the pilot states can exchange information, he said.

"We'll be there to steer them in the right direction," he said.

Each state will be looking for contractors to develop its individual systems, Amey said.

The $2 million in federal and state funds for each pilot will only be enough to establish the pilots, he said. "When you are talking about California, that just scratches the surface," he said.


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