Big Rigs, Big Room

| December 12, 2008

Truckers have long complained – and rightly so – that although car drivers are at fault in 70 percent of car-truck crashes, their bad driving behavior around trucks is rarely enforced.

But the tables turned for two weeks last month during a pilot program in Washington state. A key element of the TACT project – Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks – involves state troopers riding shotgun with truck drivers to observe four wheelers’ driving behavior. When an officer in a truck cab sees unsafe driving – speeding, tailgating, following too close – he calls ahead to other officers who pull the driver over and either give him a ticket or a warning. At the same time, a state police aviation unit calls in violations from the skies.

In the first week, officers wrote 775 tickets and 473 warnings. “We’ve been very, very productive,” says Lt. Julie Myer with the Washington State Police. Feedback from the Bellingham and Olympia communities along the project’s two sections of I-5 has been positive, Myer says. She tells of three truck drivers who stopped a deputy to thank him for what he was doing. “They’d get cut off every day driving from Canada down to Portland,” she says. But since the project began, “people are being more courteous, giving more space to the trucks.”

An important part of the project is raising public awareness through a media blitz, including road signs, radio ads, banners and posters. In particular, a snappy radio ad put to a catchy, Smokey and the Bandit-type tune, reminds car drivers to give big trucks big room:
Now you ought to give rigs one car length for every 10 miles per hour,
We need braking room with 18 wheels and 600 tons of power.

The effectiveness of the project, which is funded through federal grant money, will be measured based on how it impacts driver behavior, Myer says. If successful, it could be expanded nationwide. And if a provision included in the highway bill allowing use of roadside inspection funds to enforce safe driving practices around large trucks passes, more states would have the resources to crack down on dangerous drivers.

In the meantime, on behalf of safety-minded truckers everywhere, hats off to the Washington State Patrol and its TACT partners, for doing something concrete to address highway safety.

“We’re hitting it and hitting it hard,” Myer says. “And people are taking notice.”

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