Invention raises a flap

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010
— Reggie Hansen's eureka moment struck in an unlikely place. The rural Janesville resident was driving in his car, stuck behind a construction dump truck that was hauling a load of backfill.

The truck, like most dump-style construction rigs, was not equipped with mud flaps.

Hansen watched as the truck's huge back tires flung water, chunks of mud and rocks backwards toward his car. One of the rocks smacked into his windshield.

"You can probably guess that I got a chipped windshield out of the deal," Hansen said.

It took several years of designing, consulting and patenting, but Hansen found a fix for mud-flinging construction trucks that blends tool shop functionality with James Bond ingenuity: a battery powered, motor-driven, retractable mud flap system.

Simply put, with Hansen's system, you flip a switch on your dashboard, and an electric motor pulls your truck's mud flaps up above the rear tires, into a metal housing. Flip the switch again, and the flaps drop back down.

Hansen's system is still in the prototype stage, but he said it solves a construction site conundrum: When a dump truck drops a load of rock or fill, its mud flaps can get stuck underneath the payload. When the truck pulls away, the flaps can get torn off.

That might sound like a minor problem, but Hansen, a retired union crane operator, claims it's a main reason why state law allows trucks that carry large loads to go without mud flaps.

That's no excuse, Hansen argues.

"Those trucks are on the highway all the time, coming in and out of asphalt plants and pits and quarries, with all kinds of rocks and dirt and mud stuck in their tires. And they don't have to have mud flaps. Why not?"

Hansen said he worries about debris from flapless trucks smashing into motorists' windshields on the highway. He pointed out that motorcyclists are especially vulnerable to debris flying off truck tires.

"Some of those tires can hold fist-sized rocks," he said.

Hansen has lobbied state representatives, including Rep. Kim Hixson, D–Whitewater, asking lawmakers to get rid of the mud flap exemption for dump body construction trucks.

Hansen said he has also contacted the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, a state insurance trade association, to learn how many vehicles are damaged annually by debris from tires of flapless trucks.

Hixson, whose Assembly seat is up for re-election in November, said he would pursue Hansen's idea for mud flap legislation.

"I've gotten a (windshield) nick or two. I'm not sure it's from a dump truck, but it does happen," Hixson said in a phone interview.

Hixson called Hansen's retractable mud flap design an example of "technology catching up with a need."

To be sure, Hansen admits his lobbying efforts are for personal gain. He's got a lot of money wrapped up in patenting, construction and a marketing plan for his mud flap system—about $25,000, he said.

Hansen said some area manufacturers have shown interest in his mud flap system, which he said could cost about $300. But Hansen said the companies say they'll only consider producing the systems if state law changed to require dump-style construction trucks to use mud flaps.

Currently, there's no market.

"If you can't sell them, why make them?" Hansen said.

Hansen keeps hoping state lawmakers will pick up on his logic.

"All it takes is one legislator, and this could be in business. It's a simple solution to a problem, it's cost-effective, and it flat-out works," he said.

Last updated: 2:45 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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