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MoDOT’s innovative truck saving time, money and potentially lives

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It's saving time, money, and could save lives.  The Missouri Department of Transportation is hoping to expand use of a new truck called JAWS, an innovation that came from tragedy.

Most of us have had the not-so-fun experience of driving down the interstate, and wham!  There's a tire, mattress, or ladder laying smack in the middle of the road.  MoDOT responds round the clock to clear that debris and now they're able to do it much more safely.

"Very tense moment.  Your heart's racing, your heart's pounding," said Marcus Slaughter.

That's how Slaughter describes the sensation of jumping out of a truck, to remove debris from the middle of a busy highway.

"But now, you can do it from the seat of your pants," he said.

That ability is thanks to an innovative new truck dubbed JAWS.  At first glance, it might look like your average motorist assist vehicle. But this rig is outfitted with a special skid plate.  It drops down, allowing the vehicle to push debris to the shoulder more quickly and safely than before.

"We wanted something that could be self contained and still have the maneuverability of the truck itself," said Slaughter, KC SCOUT incident management coordinator.

JAWS was an idea many years in the making.  It stands for Julie's Automated Waste-removal System.

Back in 2004, Marcus lost a friend and colleague, Julie Love.  Love was picking up road debris near I-435 and Front Street when she was hit and killed.

"Our wheels have constantly been turning on how we can do things better and safer," said Slaughter.

It was two years ago when Slaughter transferred to a new department that he had an idea.  MoDOT and KC SCOUT experimented using a snow plow on a motorist assist truck to push away road debris.  It worked well, but needed some tweaking to be less wide and move at slightly quicker speeds.

"So it definitely eases our minds to know we have JAWS out there on the road," Slaughter said.

Last fall, JAWS was born.  The skid plate is manuevered by a joystick.  And the driver can see the debris through a camera display in the rearview mirror.  It also prevents a need for multiple crews to respond.  Just one person can do the job.

"We all want to go home each day.  We want to be safe.  We want the public to be safe.  And this is our tool to do so," he said.

The truck is so unique, it's won local and international safety awards and is being used as a model for safer debris removal around the country.

Right now, MoDOT only has one JAWS vehicle, and that truck's already racked up almost 100,000 miles.  So the department's planning to get two more JAWS trucks on the road in the coming months.