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Road and rail traffic, a potential problem rolling through your neighborhood. Trucking deregulation has created safety concerns

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A series of accidents involving trucks -- including one in Oklahoma last week in which exploding military bombs left a 20-foot-deep crater in an Interstate freeway -- has refueled a drive in Texas for stricter trucking safety standards. The push in Texas comes amid continuing federal efforts for adoption of consistent truck safety standards across the United States.

Officials say the need for stricter state standards is particularly great in a large state like Texas, where many truckers operate without ever crossing state lines -- and thus do not come under federal regulations.

Concern over dangers posed by unsafe trucks is not confined to Texas, however. Officials in the New York City area, troubled by truck accidents there, have conducted spot-checks whose findings were eye-openers: Better than 1 in 4 of the trucks stopped were ordered off the road, either because of unsafe equipment or because the drivers were not properly licensed.

In Houston, where the Texas campaign is focused, city officials were disappointed by the state Legislature's inaction on the issue this year and have taken steps of their own. Last week the Houston Police Department announced a 50 percent increase in traffic patrol units, and it is planning to set up new truck scales around the city.

``We want to see the unsafe trucks stopped and the speeding trucks slowed down,'' says Eleanor Tinsley, a Houston City Council member who unsuccessfully lobbied the Texas Legislature for adoption of federal truck safety regulations.

Ms. Tinsley says her concern has grown as the number of fatal accidents involving trucks has increased. She noted that Houston last year had 233 traffic fatalities, 14 in accidents involving trucks. So far this year, she said, 24 of 150 fatalities have occurred in truck-related accidents.

In the past few weeks Houston has witnessed a half-dozen truck accidents, including one in which a container filled with 5,000 gallons of flammable liquid rolled off a truck and burst into flames. The truck's driver was killed and a major road had to be closed for repairs.

Officials say a nationwide deterioration in trucking equipment and driving standards can be tied in part to deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980.


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