A Truck Safety Program that Really Works

May 14, 2013

Improving truck safety is a priority for everyone. And efforts to reduce truck crashes have been highly successful. Truck accident statistics have shown dramatic improvements over the years and truck crash rates continue to go down even as truck miles increase.

But are the feds really focusing their truck safety efforts in the right direction? Most of the money the government throws at the truck safety problem is aimed at further regulating truck drivers. For example, statistics show that current truck driver work rules have succeeded in reducing truck-related accidents. But despite the facts and a groundswell of congressional opposition to changing to the regulations that will cost the trucking industry billions, HOS rules will become even more stringent in July.

Is focusing most truck safety regulatory efforts on the trucker the best way to reduce truck crashes? Consider this: Of the 40,000 or so highway fatalities each year, only about 4,000 involve big rigs. Statistics also show that some 80% of truck/car crashes are the fault of the four-wheeler. That leaves approximately 800 motor vehicle fatalities that could potentially be due to trucker error.

Obviously, where the feds should really focus their truck safety budget is on educating four-wheelers how to safely share the road with trucks.

Ironically, a program is already in place that could do just that. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) Program uses education and high visibility traffic enforcement to reduce commercial motor vehicle related crashes.

Through the program, state highway enforcement agencies place officers in the cabs of big rigs to observe four-wheeler behavior around trucks. Officers in the big rig work in conjunction with other patrol officers and tip them to drivers who make unsafe maneuvers around heavy trucks.

States have regularly reported pulling over and ticketing hundreds of car drivers for unsafe driving around big rigs within a few hours of observation.

Unsafe driving behaviors may include, but are not limited to: unsafe lane changes, tailgating, failing to signal lane changes, failing to yield the right of way, speeding, and aggressive driving (a combination of two or more of the above behaviors).

Ticketing drivers for unsafe maneuvers around trucks can go a long way to educating them on safely sharing the road with big rigs.

But media outreach also helps spread the word to motorists about the dangers of aggressive and unsafe driving around large trucks. Often, a news reporter is invited to ride along in the big rig spotter truck for a first-hand view of the dangerous behavior of four-wheelers. Resulting news reports then educate other drivers to how to safely share the road with trucks.

Following are the safety tips FMCSA offers to media representatives to present to car drivers:

If you get into a tangle with a truck, you will likely lose - When driving on the highway you are at a serious disadvantage if involved in a crash with a larger vehicle. In crashes involving large trucks, the occupants of a car, usually the driver, sustain 78% of fatalities. In order to keep you and your family safe when driving around large trucks and buses, you should be extra cautious. Sharing the road with larger vehicles can be dangerous if you are not aware of their limitations.

Cutting off a truck can cut short your life - If you cut in front of another vehicle, you may create an emergency-braking situation for the vehicles around you, especially in heavy traffic. Trucks and buses take much longer to stop in comparison to cars. If you force a larger vehicle to stop quickly this could cause a serious, even fatal accident. When passing, look for the front of the truck in your rear-view mirror before pulling in front and avoid braking situations!

Buckle up - Always buckle your seat belt. Seat belts are your best protection in case of a crash, especially if you get into an accident with a large vehicle such as a truck. Trucks require a greater stopping distance and can seriously hurt you if your car is struck from behind. However, your seat belt will keep you from striking the steering wheel or windshield, being thrown around, and from being ejected from the car. Wearing a seat belt is the single most important thing you can do to save your life, especially in a crash with a large truck.

Watch for truck blind spots, don't travel in "The No-Zone" - Large trucks have blind spots, or No-Zones, around the front, back and sides of the truck. Watch out! A truck could even turn into you, because these No-Zones make it difficult for the driver to see. So, don't hang out in the No-Zones, and remember, if you can't see the truck driver in the truck's mirror, the truck driver can't see you.

Pay attention at all times - Inattentive drivers do not pay attention to driving or what is going on around them. They can be just as dangerous as aggressive drivers when they drive slowly in the passing lane, ignore trucks brake lights or signals, and create an emergency-braking situation. They also create dangerous situations when they attempt to do other things while driving, such as using cell phones. When you are driving, please focus only on the road. If you need to attend to another matter while driving, safely pull over in a parking lot or rest stop.

Don't be an aggressor - Aggressive drivers can be dangerous drivers. They put themselves and others at risk with their unsafe driving. Speeding, running red lights and stop signs, pulling in front of trucks too quickly when passing, and making frequent lane changes, especially in the blind spots of trucks, can create dangerous and potentially fatal situations on the road. These situations can lead to road rage not only for the aggressive driver, but also for others sharing the road.

Avoid the squeeze play - Be careful of trucks making wide right turns. If you try to get in between the truck and the curb, you'll be caught in a "squeeze" and can suffer a serious accident. Truck drivers sometimes need to swing wide to the left in order to safely negotiate a right turn especially in urban areas. They can't see cars directly behind or beside them. Cutting in between the truck and the curb increases the possibility of a crash. So pay attention to truck signals, and give them lots of room to maneuver.

These are all messages that bear repeating to four-wheelers- over and over again. And the TACT program is the best one out there to do it.

Unfortunately, only 15 states currently operate a TACT program, and those states only have the program in force a couple days a year.

Rather than spending millions to heap more and more stringent regulations on the backs of truckers, the feds could go a lot further in reducing truck crashes by allocating a larger the truck regulation budget to expanding the TACT program that focuses its efforts on the real cause of most truck crashes - the four-wheelers.

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