ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The state has a new device that can detect bad brakes and other mechanical problems on trucks and buses traveling at highway speeds.
The $325,000 Infra Red Inspection System is housed in a van. It uses heat sensors to screen commercial vehicles for safety defects by comparing temperature discrepancies.
The special van, which was delivered in late February, should be inspecting big rigs by spring, state transportation officials said. About 30 of the state's 50 commercial vehicle enforcement officers are being trained to use the equipment, a process that started in March.
Paul Varady, commercial vehicle operations program manager for the department, said money from the Federal Highway Administration paid for 80 percent of the van and its equipment, with the state matching the remainder, about $65,000.
Key to the system is a round infrared camera about the size of a volleyball that is mounted atop the unmarked van. Operators inside the van use a video gamelike controller to point the camera at a moving vehicle as it passes by.
Although the equipment is complex and expensive, the idea behind it is simple, according to the system's manufacturer, Infra Red Inspection System Ltd. of Burnaby, British Columbia.
Brakes generate friction, which generates heat. A hot wheel, which glows white on the system's inside monitor, means the brake is working. A cold, or dark image, means the brakes are in need of repair or replacement.
Of the 6,265 commercial vehicle inspections last year in Alaska, 1,403 violations were written for faulty brakes, according to state department statistics.
''Inoperable or out-of-adjustment brakes make up 20 percent of the violations, but they are our No. 1 safety concern,'' said Gary Marten, chief of the state's commercial vehicle enforcement division.
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