KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Each year, a growing number of drivers hits the road, which means more accidents. Despite this increase, over the past 20 years the number of Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers has remained about the same but their responsibilities have increased.
There are currently about 800 troopers in Tennessee, but THP Col. Tracy Trott says that's not enough. He says more troopers on the road could mean more lives saved.
Sgt. Randall Martin has worked with the highway patrol for 14 years. At first, he stayed busy just keeping an eye on drivers but now troopers have more tasks than ever. They monitor everything from the roads to gun permits to commercial vehicles.
"Now every trooper has to do roadside inspections or scale inspections," Sgt. Martin said.
Col. Trott says troopers also inspect school buses, investigate auto thefts and help solve identity crimes.
"When you add all those duties onto a department, those duties take people off the road at times so you're stretched a little thin in areas," Col. Trott said.
According to research based on drivers, road miles and the number of crashes, Col. Trott says Tennessee needs more than the current 800 troopers. He says 400 more would be ideal.
He also says a stronger presence would deter driving violations and could save lives.
"In 55 percent of the fatalities in Tennessee, the person wasn't wearing a seat belt and you can also attribute one-third of the fatalities nationwide are caused by impaired drivers," Col. Trott said.
To make up for too few troopers, Col. Trott says they must select counties with higher fatality rates to put saturation patrols.
Also troopers work overtime and during a holiday weekend, the administrative staff joins troopers on the roads. But this is just a temporary fix.
The colonel hopes the state's economy will eventually turn around, meaning more sales tax and more spending money for the state.
"If the economy is going well and collections are up, those things help the economy and helps departments like mine have a few extra resources," Col. Trott said.
This year, the THP is hiring 40 new troopers. Col. Trott says compared to other states, Tennessee has been lucky. Since 2008, there have been no dramatic personnel cuts to the department, although some positions have not been filled.