A technology system comprising license plate readers and access to real-time federal data is helping state police improve safety on New Mexico roadways.

The New Mexico Department of Public Safety Smart Roadside Inspection system provides officers with the safety history of each commercial vehicle they scan. Armed with the data, police stop the correct trucks for roadside inspections, instead of randomly choosing certain carriers to check.

“Our focus is on the problem carriers,” said Maj. Chris Mayrant of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. “We don’t want to delay the carriers that are safe and doing what they need to be doing.”

The technology pulls data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) program, which measures carriers’ safety performance. When an officer scans a truck’s license plate or Department of transportation (DOT) number, the data bounces off a federal database and returns with the carrier’s CSA score. This enables an officer to make an informed decision on what vehicles to take a better look at.

In addition, the system identifies exactly what problems a carrier has had in the past. For example, if a carrier has had mechanical issues with its trucks, officers will know that ahead of time so they can concentrate on that when doing an inspection.

“When we’re screening the trucks, we’re going off the DOT number, so it’s the actual carrier that’s responsible for the load being transported with that particular vehicle,” Mayrant said. “The record will tie-in to the carrier, and we’ll use their safety performance to make the decision whether to inspect or not.”

New Mexico’s Smart Roadside Inspection system made its debut in 2008. The technology can be used at state weigh stations, but its real advantage is portability. Officers can set it up on multiple roadways throughout the state to ensure safety compliance.

The system was recognized in May as a top-25 program in the 2013 Innovations in American Government Award competition by the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. The awards program highlights creative efforts of government innovation that address public concerns.

Funding for the Smart Roadside Inspection system is provided by the FMCSA and the state. Mayrant didn’t have any numbers on-hand, but said the system is being paid for incrementally, including annual maintenance and upgrade costs.

Looking Ahead

While the inspection technology has been successful, the New Mexico Department of Public Safety isn’t sitting on its laurels. The department is planning to add a HAZMAT placard reader to its arsenal that will help officers screen loads for certain types of materials being transported.

Infrared technology will also be incorporated into the system. Mayrant explained that the department has experimented with an infrared imaging camera that enables officers to identify brake issues on trucks. It has worked well and will be permanently added to some sites in the future.

Technology is also being looked at to look up the safety ratings of international carriers — specifically Mexico. The New Mexico DPS is looking into license plate readers that will provide officers access to the safety ratings of Mexico-based carriers.

“With the border opening up more and more, FMCSA has added more carriers [that can go] across the border,” Mayrant said. “So we will want to tie that into the safety ratings for carriers south of the border.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.